Just 'a few hundred' ISIS fighters left in final Syria battle, US envoy says

news
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.

READ MORE: A Marine Raider Was Awarded The Silver Star For Taking Out An ISIS Car Bomb Car Bomb

WATCH MORE: Vice President Mike Pence: 'ISIS Has Been Defeated'

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.

Read More Show Less
Pfc. Kyle Dinsmore gets his turn to use the system during the SBS fielding at Fort Bragg. Photo: Patrick Ferraris/U.S. Army

Those really sweet, hand-held drones that the Army bought in January were finally put to the test as they were fielded to some lucky soldiers for the first time at the beginning of May.

Read More Show Less
Retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven. (Flickr/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Sean K. Harp)

For many people, millennials are seen as super-entitled, self-involved, over-sensitive snowflakes who don't have the brains or brawn to, among other noble callings, serve as the next great generation of American warfighters.

Retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven is here to tell you that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Read More Show Less
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.

Read More Show Less
Fort Irwin's painted rocks in Nov. 25, 2014 (U.S. Army/ Guy Volb)

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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.

Read More Show Less