UNITED NATIONS - The Islamic State group has not been defeated in Syria and continues to pose by far the most significant threat of any terrorist group, U.N. sanctions monitors said Wednesday, contradicting President Donald Trump’s claim that IS is nearly wiped out.
There are between 14,000 and 18,000 IS militants in Syria and in Iraq, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters, according to a report that the sanctions monitoring team presented to the Security Council.
The group “has not yet been defeated in the Syrian Arab Republic, but it remains under intense military pressure in its residual territory stronghold in the east of the country,” said the report. “It has shown a determination to resist and the capability to counterattack.”
Trump stunned Western allies on Dec. 19 by announcing that the United States would pull its 2,000 troops out of Syria, declaring that IS had been defeated. His assertion has collided with the assessment of his own national intelligence director, Dan Coats, who described the jihadi group as a potent threat in the Middle East and to the West.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a 79-nation meeting in Washington on Wednesday that the United States remains committed to crushing IS but its approach could change in “an era of decentralized jihad.”
The sanctions monitors, who reported on the threat from IS, al-Qaida and other groups blacklisted as terrorist groups by the United Nations, said the jihadis rank as the most dangerous.
U.N. sanctions monitors said that with the loss of its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, IS has morphed into a covert network, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
IS leadership has been reduced to a dispersed group and “is directing some fighters to return to Iraq to join the network there” with the aim “to survive, consolidate and resurge in the core area,” said the report.
The extremist group, which once controlled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, remains a global organization even if the number of external attacks dropped in 2018 compared to 2017.
The report by the U.N. analysts draws mostly on information provided by U.N. member states and covers the period from July to December 2018.
In Syria, only a small pocket of IS fighters battle on near the Iraqi border, around the town of Hajin, where some 3,000 to 4,000 IS fighters remain, most of whom are from Iraq, the monitors said.
About 3,000 IS fighters are active in Iraq, according to one member state, but other governments believe that the number is much larger.
About 1,000 foreign fighters are detained in Iraq and just under 1,000 in northeast Syria although governments are struggling to confirm the nationalities of the detainees, said the report.