The Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq is back and gaining strength.
The group has made its presence clear with an attack on a Syrian prison that was housing Islamic State group fighters, strikes against military forces in Iraq and the beheading of an Iraqi police officer, as The New York Times reported.
Though the Islamic State group was never fully eradicated (because terrorist groups never are), the self-proclaimed caliphate lost its territorial control nearly three years ago, as the U.S. State Department declared a triumph over the terror organization.
For the past three years, smaller divisions of the Iraqi police and security have continued to campaign against the stragglers of the Islamic State group, PBS reported.
But now, the group is certainly showing signs of fully coming back to life.
“The evidence of a resurgence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is mounting by the day, nearly three years after the militants lost the last patch of territory of their so-called caliphate, which once stretched across vast parts of the two countries,” the Times reported.
By 2021, the attacks against Iraqi security forces and citizens from the “stragglers” of the Islamic State group became more frequent and problematic.
“Out of 995 attacks recorded nationwide between 1 January and 20 October 2021, 655 took place in the Kirkuk-Saladin-Diyala triangle,” political scientist Hardy Mède told Le Monde Diplomatique in December of 2021. “ISIS may now be capable of taking a city. This is a new phase: it’s shifting from targeted attacks to territorial control.”
Laurent Perpigna Iban, a journalist with Le Monde Diplomatique who has reported on the situation and spent time with Iraqi commanders, explained how after its large defeat in 2017, the Islamic State group adapted by withdrawing to remote and rural areas.
As a result, the Islamic State group was able to survive and regroup, and is now growing strong again.
In December, its fighters kidnapped four Iraqi hunters in the northeast mountains of Iraq. A gruesome video of a beheading followed, as the Times reported.
Several days ago, Islamic State group fighters also entered the Diyala Province and killed 10 soldiers and an officer.
This week’s struggle in northeast Syria, as the group tried to take control of a prison filled with its fighters, drew American troops into the melee and made it more apparent than ever that the Islamic State group is becoming an increasing problem again.
“The Kurdish Syrian forces have been trying to break this siege. And the U.S. has launched airstrikes, and it’s also sent in ground troops. But still, ISIS is holding part of that prison,” Jane Arraf, the bureau chief for The New York Times Baghdad, told NPR.
This new show of strength from the Islamic State group is concerning. It is coming out of its sleeper cells, the mountains, the desert, the remote villages, and it is once again coordinating attacks.
“It’s a wake-up call for regional players, for national players that ISIS is not over, that the fight is not over,” Kawa Hassan, the Middle East and North Africa director at the Stimson Center, told the Times. “It shows the resilience of ISIS to strike back at the time and place of their choosing.”
Under the Trump administration, there was the success of taking back Islamic State group territory, but as with any terror organization, it was just a matter of time before it regrouped, recruited and gained enough strength again to start making bold strokes.
But though there was a kind of inevitability to the group’s resurrection, the Biden administration’s weakness in the region has certainly not helped.
The disastrous and deadly withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan left the region ripe for terror resurgence. With al-Qaida and the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate on the prowl, the whole world, including all the terrorist fighters, were watching as the Biden administration left Afghanistan in the clutches of absolute disaster.
Fortunately, there are still American troops in Iraq and Syria. There are about 2,500 soldiers in Iraq, according to Al Jazeera. About another 900 are in Syria, Al Jazeera reported.
However, President Joe Biden has commented in the past that he has plans to also withdraw from Iraq. In July, before the horrific events of Afghanistan, Biden announced that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq would be concluded by the end of 2021, as The Associated Press reported.
That obviously did not happen.
The problem is that no one is entirely clear on what the United States’ goal or plan in the region now is. Couple this with the fact that Biden seems to want out of the Middle East, and it makes sense that the Islamic State group is coming out of the woodwork again.
“Well, it really depends what U.S. policy goals are. And I think right now the U.S. mission and the U.S. aims are not entirely clear to anyone, even people charged with implementing them,” Arraf noted. “So if we’re talking about U.S. forces becoming entangled, I think it’s been made clear that the United States does really — really does not want to have a lot of troops in Iraq, in Syria, in places like that. But at the same time, this illustrates the risk if there are no troops.”
These recent attacks from the Islamic State group certainly indicate that it is making its debut 2.0, meaning Biden will have to start making decisions about what to do in Syria and Iraq, even though he has managed to avoid it for the first year of his presidency.