Two years after their ‘defeat’ ISIS ‘are still as dangerous and recruiting fighters from jihadist families living in displacement camps’

  • The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have said counter-terrorism efforts today are more difficult and dangerous than fighting ISIS face to face 
  • The group issued a statement on Tuesday to mark the official military defeat of ISIS at Baghouz, Syria in 2019 
  • The SDF have held a military parade at the US-protected Al-Omar oil field to mark the anniversary
  • Even without a physical stronghold, ISIS continues to attack targets in Iraq and Syria and recruit members 

Islamic State forces remain as dangerous today as when they were ousted from their last Syrian bastion two years ago, Kurdish forces have warned as they marked the anniversary on Tuesday.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said counter-terrorism efforts today were ‘more difficult than face-to-face fighting with IS jihadists, and are considered more dangerous’.

‘The fall of the last patch of IS territory in northeast Syria does not mean complete defeat,’ the SDF said in a statement to mark their victory in March 2019.

On Tuesday, Kurdish authorities, local tribal leaders and members of the US-led coalition who pushed IS from their Syrian stronghold, marked the anniversary with a military parade in the US-protected Al-Omar oil field, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

Islamic State forces remain as dangerous today as when they were ousted from their last Syrian bastion two years ago, Kurdish forces have warned as they marked the anniversary on Tuesday

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said counter-terrorism efforts today were ‘more difficult than face-to-face fighting with IS jihadists, and are considered more dangerous’. Pictured: SDF members take part in a military parade to mark the defeat of ISIS

‘The fall of the last patch of IS territory in northeast Syria does not mean complete defeat,’ the SDF said in a statement to mark their victory in March 2019. Pictured: SDF members take part in a military parade to mark the defeat of ISIS

The IS defeat in the eastern riverside hamlet of Baghouz marked the end of a cross-border ‘caliphate’ declared in 2014 across swaths of Iraq and Syria.

But two years on from the Battle of Baghouz, IS has shown that it does not need a physical stronghold to pose a potent threat, with the jihadists carrying out regular attacks and ambushes, including setting off roadside bombs and machine-gunning vehicles.

They are also feared to be recruiting fresh fighters, including among tens of thousands of suspected IS relatives detained in overcrowded displacement camps.

‘We are currently at the most difficult stage of our counter-terrorism efforts,’ the SDF added. 

On Tuesday, Kurdish authorities, local tribal leaders and members of the US-led coalition who pushed IS from their Syrian stronghold, marked the anniversary with a military parade (pictured) in the US-protected Al-Omar oil field, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor

The IS defeat in the eastern riverside hamlet of Baghouz marked the end of a cross-border ‘caliphate’ declared in 2014 across swaths of Iraq and Syria. Pictured: SDF members take part in a military parade to mark the defeat of ISIS

Two years on from the Battle of Baghouz, IS has shown that it does not need a physical stronghold to pose a potent threat, with the jihadists carrying out regular attacks and ambushes, including setting off roadside bombs and machine-gunning vehicles. Pictured: SDF members take part in a military parade to mark the defeat of ISIS

IS retains some 10,000 active fighters in both Syria and Iraq, although the majority are reported to be in Iraq, according to a recent report from the United Nations.

Syria’s vast desert near the Iraqi border has emerged as a key ‘safe haven’ for IS operatives and a springboard for attacks, the UN said.

The group is ‘building and retaining a cellular structure which allows it to carry out terrorist attacks,’ General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command that oversees troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, said last month.

At Al-Omar, SDF banners were raised to mark the anniversary, alongside posters carrying pictures of fighters killed during the years-long battle against jihadists.

Fighters in fatigues marched in a show of strength.

Pictured: Heavy smoke rises above the hamlet of Baghouz during the Battle of Baghouz [File photo]

The tens of thousands of jihadists in Kurdish jails and suspected IS relatives held in displacement camps have emerged as an extremist powder keg. Pictured: An SDF member stands as women and children leave Baghouz following ISIS’s defeat [File photo]

‘In the spirit of the liberation of Baghouz… we will liberate all our lands,’ one poster read, referring to the village where IS made its last stand.

Kurdish fighters joined ranks with Arab forces to form the US-backed SDF alliance in 2015.

They would go on to oust IS from key areas, including the jihadists’ de facto capital Raqa in 2017.

In October 2019, a US strike on Syria killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several other prominent figures.

But Baghdadi’s successor, Mohammed Said Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla, has been able to direct and inspire new attacks.

Syria’s Kurds are holding nearly 43,000 foreigners with links to the jihadist group in jails and informal displacement camps, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. Pictured: Women and children evacuated from Baghouz arrive at an SDF screening area [File photo]

Those held by Kurdish forces include 27,500 children, at least 300 of whom are in squalid prisons, while the rest are kept in rehabilitation centres or locked camps, HRW said.Pictured: A young girl interacts with a toddler at Al-Hol camp on March 3, 2021

The tens of thousands of jihadists in Kurdish jails and suspected IS relatives held in displacement camps have emerged as an extremist powder keg.

Syria’s Kurds are holding nearly 43,000 foreigners with links to the jihadist group in jails and informal displacement camps, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

They include 27,500 children, at least 300 of whom are in squalid prisons, while the rest are kept in rehabilitation centres or locked camps, HRW said.

Repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and a few women being brought home.

‘Men, women, and children from around the world are entering a third year of unlawful detention in life-threatening conditions…while their governments look the other way,’ HRW’s Letta Tayler said.

The SDF reiterated calls on Tuesday for countries to boost repatriation efforts, and establish international tribunals to prosecute those in detention accused of being jihadists.

Repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and a few women being brought home. Pictured: Al-Hol refugee camp, home to many suspected relatives of ISIS fighters [File photo]

The SDF reiterated calls on Tuesday for countries to boost repatriation efforts, and establish international tribunals to prosecute those in detention accused of being jihadists. Pictured: An SDF fighter gives bread to children near the town of Baghouz during the battle [File photo]

Most suspected IS relatives are being kept in the Al Hol camp, the largest of the settlements controlled by Kurdish authorities.

Al-Hol holds almost 62,000 people, mostly women and children, including Syrians, Iraqis and thousands from Europe and Asia accused of having family ties to IS fighters.

Some detainees see the camp as the last vestige of the cross-border ‘caliphate’.

‘The danger of the IS group lives on in the thousands of prisoners held in jails as well as… their relatives detained in camps,’ the SDF said.

In a report published last month, the UN said it had documented instances of ‘radicalisation, fundraising, training and incitement of external operations’ at Al-Hol.

It also warned of the fate of around 7,000 children living in a special annex designated for foreign IS relatives.

They are ‘being groomed as future ISIL operatives’ the UN said, using a different acronym for the IS group.

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