By Isaac J. Martin
Beirut, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- The Islamic State’s last black flag was lowered when the terror organization lost its last stronghold of Baghuz in eastern Syria a year ago. However, its fighters today continue to launch attacks in Syria and Iraq.
The United States-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 23 March last year announced the territorial defeat of IS after months of fighting and a weeks-long siege to Baghuz, bordering Iraq.
“After the SDF was able to eliminate ISIS (another acronym for IS) in its last Baghuz fight, there were no geographical areas controlled by the terror organization,” SDF military spokesman Mervan Qamshili told EFE.
“But within a year, the ISIS terrorist attacks on civilians and the military did not stop completely, these attacks are launched through their active sleeper cells.”
US units withdrew from northern Syria last October to avoid a potential conflict with Turkey, which launched an offensive against the Kurds, but later redeployed in Deir al-Zour province to protect oil plants and prevent a new IS insurgency.
US-led coalition spokesman Col. Myles Caggins told Efe that “our operations must continue because ISIS still has a goal to resurge.”
“ISIS is down but not out,” he said.
Although IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed last year in a US-led air raid in a village in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, his death has not ended the threat of IS.
IS sleeper cell attacks significantly decreased in September 2019 by 32 percent (43 attacks), according to figures released by the Rojava information center, an all-volunteer group of local and international journalists and researchers in the autonomous Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria.
However, this decline recovered with the Turkish offensive from October. In the following two months, 83 and 84 attacks by those sleeper cells were recorded.
In December 2017, Iraq announced the complete liberation of all of its territory that was under the control of IS but the military campaign in northeastern Syria raised concerns that extremists could escape to Iraq through the uncontrollable border.
“The Iraqi Security Forces continue to pressure ISIS remnants in the mountainous areas of north central Iraq, the Nineveh plains, and Anbar Desert,” Caggins explained.
Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Efe that currently “more active and dangerous ISIS” cells are on “the northern bank of the Euphrates in Syria’s Deir al-Zour,” as well as Makhmour in Iraq, “from where ISIS militants can stage attacks elsewhere.”
Now the international coalition has handed over al-Qaim, one of its bases in Iraq, to Iraqi forces as part of the “success” of the anti-IS campaign.
Iraq has tried local and foreign extremists that surrendered or were captured during the offensive, sentencing many of whom to death.
Meanwhile, Kurds have not conducted trials against the more than 10,000 militants they have behind bars as they do not have recognized authority.
A Kurdish official told Efe on condition of anonymity that they called for the necessity of forming an international tribunal, since the fall of IS.
“There are more than 10,000 extremist fighters, almost half of them are from Syria and Iraq, while the rest are from more than 50 countries in the world, including Spaniards as well,” he added, giving no further details.
Besides extremists, tens of thousands of women and children remain in displaced persons camps established during the last months of the offensive to house relatives of IS members.