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Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters have cornered ISIS fighters in the village of Baghouz, the terrorist group plans to go underground and wage an insurgency long after it has been cleared from its last stronghold, the head of U.S. Central Command told lawmakers on Thursday.
"We should be clear that what we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization – but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge," Army Gen. Joseph Votel said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
"Recent observations by our men and women on the ground highlight that the ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remain unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized," Votel continued. "We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and – of course – their toxic ideology."
It is now up to the international community to determine what to do with the thousands of ISIS fighters and their families now in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Votel said. These detainees can "sow the seeds of future violent extremism" if they are not correctly taken care of, he said.
For more than a year, U.S. military officials have claimed that only about 2,000 ISIS fighters remained in Syria, but the waves of ISIS fighters and their families who have surrendered during the Baghouz offensive suggests the Syrian Democratic Forces have been fighting an enemy much larger than that.
The SDF is holding more than 2,000 ISIS fighters in custody, the Wall Street Journal reported, and SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted on Tuesday that 3,500 had been evacuated from ISIS' last enclave, of which 500 were ISIS fighters who surrendered.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, declined to provide an updated estimate of how many ISIS fighters have been killed or captured in Syria's Middle Euphrates River Valley.
"The number of fighters in the MERV was always based off intelligence estimates from the battlefield, and with full recognition the enemy works and hides within a complex tunnel system throughout the region and we will never fully know the exact number," Ryan told Task & Purpose. "With that said, the mission was always to degrade ISIS capabilities to conduct military operations, while simultaneously destroying their logistical, media, and financial based systems.
"It was never about the number killed and the ultimate victory is based off an enduring defeat that will ensure ISIS cannot regenerate their capabilities and threaten the security of the region and our homelands."
On Thursday, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked Votel what the next phase of the war against ISIS will look like as fighters go underground.
"This will look very much like an insurgency," Votel replied. "We will see low level attacks. We'll see assassinations. We'll see IED attacks. We'll see ambush-type things as they begin to emerge from this. Therefore, what our focus has to be is working with our partners on the ground as we're doing fairly effectively in Iraq right now. We are going to have to keep pressure on this."
SEE ALSO: Don't Call It An Insurgency: Only 'Disparate Cellular Structures' Of ISIS Remain In Iraq, DoD Says
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Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The Air Force is investigating whether an airman smoked weed at a missile alert facility for nuclear Minuteman ICBMs
The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing 400 nuclear GM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Mark Mitchell is stepping down as the acting assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, a position he has held since late June, a defense official confirmed on Tuesday.
No information was immediately available about why Mitchell decided to resign. His last day will be Nov. 1 and he will be replaced by Thomas Alexander, who is currently leading the Defense Department's counternarcotics efforts, the defense official told Task & Purpose.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.
US troops withdrawing to Iraq from Syria can't redeploy there and have to leave in 4 weeks, Baghdad says
The 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria will be allowed to stay in Iraq for at most four weeks, Iraq's defense minister said Wednesday, in an embarrassing rebuff to President Donald Trump's plans for withdrawing from Syria.
Najah al-Shammari's comments to the Associated Press came shortly after his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who went to Baghdad to negotiate the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq after they withdrew from Syria.