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Syrian Chaos Breathes Life into Islamic State

Jeff Seldin – Voice of America

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Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria seems to be providing Islamic State new life, but U.S. counterterrorism officials caution the terror group’s subsequent moves are far from specific.

The officials, speaking on the situation of anonymity, warn Islamic State is effectively-versed in applying regional conflicts to its benefit, getting completed so in Iraq in 2005-2006, and once again in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

And they note that IS has utilised the seven months considering that the fall in March of its final territorial stronghold in Baghuz, Syria, to lay a foundation of “dispersed networks” — comprising an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fighters — for a prolonged and vicious insurgency.

“It is not clear at this time how ISIS could adjust their technique in Syria in light of the Turkish incursion,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA, applying an acronym for the terror group.

Till Turkey launched its operation in Syria’s northeast earlier this month, most of IS’s operations had targeted Kurdish safety forces. There was also speculation that IS cells may possibly attempt to absolutely free some of the about 12,000 fighters getting held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as effectively as the tens of thousands of IS wives and other loved ones members in displaced persons camps across the area — anything IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi encouraged in a September speech.

Just how lots of captured IS fighters could have escaped or been freed remains uncertain. U.S. officials say each Turkey and the SDF have assured them the prisoners stay incarcerated, even though they admit the absence of U.S. forces on the ground indicates the claims can not be verified.

Each Turkey and the SDF have likewise accused every single other of releasing IS prisoners to fight for them through the present hostilities — allegations every single side rejects.

Circumstances Ripe for Thriving IS

U.S. officials worry it is the kind of atmosphere in which IS tends to thrive.
 
“Mistrust of the government, the inability of safety guarantors to assure the security of regional populations, and divisions along ethnic and religious lines are all aspects that ISIS has previously exploited,” the U.S. counterterrorism official mentioned.

And there have been indications, of late, that the terror group is increasing bolder.

On Tuesday, the British-primarily based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted sources as saying that a former IS emir and 150 followers had moved back into the town of Tel Abyad, after a vital IS provide hub on the border amongst Turkey and Syria, and a concentrate of Turkey’s current operations.

The Manbij Military Council, a militia with ties to the SDF, also mentioned Tuesday it had detected elevated activity by IS cells in Syria, even though it place some of the blame on Turkish-backed forces, accusing them of attempting to assist IS members escape.

So also, the Kurdish Red Crescent warned IS has utilised the conflict to “improve their capabilities once again in the complete area.”

“The Kurdish safety forces has no capacity at all any longer to defend the civilians from the terror of ISIS,” it mentioned in a statement Tuesday.

And with fewer U.S. forces on the ground in Syria, present and former U.S. defense officials say the United States will have a tougher time gathering intelligence on the terror group and monitoring IS activity.

Safeguarding Syria’s Oil, Infrastructure

So also, there are fears IS could use the chaos in northeast Syria to additional fund its increasing insurgency, by targeting oil fields now below the handle of Kurdish forces — a worry that has resonated with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We secured the oil,” Trump mentioned through a cabinet meeting Monday, saying the U.S. had a tiny force in the location.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed Tuesday that some troops “stay in the towns that are situated close to the oil fields,” even though he mentioned he has however to present the president with a extended-term strategy.

“A goal of these forces, operating with the SDF, is to deny access to these oil fields by ISIS and other individuals who could advantage from revenues that could be earned,” Esper told reporters Monday through a news conference in Afghanistan.

But, analysts and researchers caution though IS could have styles on the oil fields, lots of of which it after controlled, a simple takeover is unlikely.

“Controlling oil fields would be a increase, but would also expose it to direct attack,” mentioned Rand Senior Economist Howard Shatz, who co-authored a report on the terror group’s finances.

As an alternative, Shatz recommended IS could appear to yet another web page of its income-boosting playbook —hijacking oil tankers, which could test the limits of a residual U.S. force.

“Now in Syria, if oil leaves the northeast oil fields by truck and there is restricted coalition or SDF handle of roads, ISIS could repeat this,” he mentioned.

Other analysts warn the larger threat to the oil fields comes from Iran, Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, all of whom have extended sought to take component in the earnings, but which could allow IS in the method.

“The challenge right here is that it is not feasible to separate the counter-ISIS requirement from the broader concern of Assad and his backers,” according to Jennifer Cafarella, analysis director at the Washington-primarily based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

“ISIS will be in a position to exploit the instability in eastern Syria that Assad and his backers would create as they move in to seize oil fields and other infrastructure,” she mentioned, adding that neither the Syrian regime or Russian forces have shown the potential to stop the terror group from reconstituting — a view extended shared by U.S. military officials.

“This is visible in central Syria in the places about Palmyra, exactly where ISIS’s insurgency is gaining momentum the quickest,” Cafarella mentioned.

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