A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter looks as smoke billows after an airstrike hit territory still held by Islamic State militants in the desert outside Baghouz, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Associated Press/Felipe Dana)
GENEVA (Reuters) - ISIS is down to its last few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land in a battle for its final Syrian stronghold, although it may have 15,000-20,000 armed adherents in Syria and Iraq, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said on Friday.
"We are just about finished with the campaign along the Euphrates to defeat the last territorial holdings of the 'caliphate'. They're down to a few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land," said Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Islamic State).
Jeffrey said the United States was helping the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria to secure IS prisoners but was also launching a campaign to get countries to take back foreign fighters and their families, to prosecute or re-educate them.
Islamic State redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared its ultra-radical Sunni Islamist "caliphate" and established a rule known for mass killings, sexual enslavement and meting out punishments such as crucifixion.
The militants suffered their major military defeats in 2017, when they lost the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. They were then forced down the Euphrates River to their last bastion at Baghouz, a cluster of hamlets on the eastern bank.
"We believe that there's between 15,000 and 20,000 Daesh armed adherents active, although many are in sleeper cells, in Syria and in Iraq," Jeffrey said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Speaking to reporters on a video call after attending a Syria humanitarian conference in Brussels, Jeffrey said the struggle to defeat Islamic State ideology would go on and there was no timetable for a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
Some troops would be pulled out but a contingent would stay in northeastern Syria, backed by coalition partners and control of air space, to continue the fight and prevent a destabilizing vacuum developing.
The United States would also maintain a force at al-Tanf close to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders to bolster local forces against Islamic State.
With a smaller force and much less combat after the territorial defeat of IS in Syria, U.S. costs would be far less, he said. In 2018, U.S. military operations in Syria cost about $2 billion out of a total defense budget of $700 billion, mainly expenditure on precision-guided munitions.
In a scathing letter, a top Navy legal official on Sunday expressed "grave ethical concerns" over revelations that government prosecutors used tracking software in emails to defense lawyers in ongoing cases involving two Navy SEALs in San Diego.
The letter, written by David G. Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Navy's Defense Service Offices, requested a response by Tuesday from the Chief of the Navy's regional law offices detailing exactly what type of software was used and what it could do, who authorized it, and what controls were put in place to limit its spread on government networks.
"As our clients learn about these extraordinary events in the media, we are left unarmed with any facts to answer their understandable concerns about our ability to secure the information they must trust us to maintain. This situation has become untenable," Wilson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Task & Purpose on Monday.
Rebekah "Moani" Daniel and her husband Walter Daniel. (Walter Daniel/Luvera Law Firm)
The Supreme Court on Monday denied a petition to hear a wrongful death case involving the controversial Feres Doctrine — a major blow to advocates seeking to undo the 69-year-old legal rule that bars U.S. service members and their families from suing the government for injury or death deemed to have been brought on by military service.
FORT IRWIN, California -- Anyone who's been here has seen it: the field of brightly painted boulders surrounding a small mountain of rocks that symbolizes unit pride at the Army's National Training Center.
For nearly four decades, combat units have painted their insignias on boulders near the road into this post. It's known as Painted Rocks.