U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria spent 2022 taking the fight to ISIS by carrying out a total of 313 missions in both countries, during which at least 686 suspected ISIS fighters were killed, including the terrorist group’s former top leader, according to U.S. Central Command.
In Syria, U.S. forces conducted 108 missions with Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s Kurdish allies, along with 14 “unilateral” operations in 2022, resulting in 215 suspected ISIS operatives being taken prisoner and another suspected 466 ISIS fighters being killed, CENTCOM announced on Thursday.
It was also a busy year for U.S. troops in Iraq, who conducted 191 partnered operations with Iraqi forces that led to 159 suspected ISIS operatives being captured and at least 220 suspected ISIS fighters being killed, a CENTCOM News release says.
No U.S. troops in Iraq or Syria were killed or wounded during operations in 2022, according to CENTCOM.
The biggest fight took place in January, when ISIS fighters attempted to free thousands of suspected ISIS members from a prison in Al-Hasakah, Syria. It took 10 days for the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by U.S. military airpower, to crush the attack.
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An estimated 420 suspected ISIS militants were killed, and 120 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces lost their lives in the battle, according to CENTCOM.
U.S. Air Forces Central Command declined to provide information on how many missions U.S. military aircraft flew in Iraq and Syria in 2022 to support the fight against ISIS, citing “operational security purposes,” said AFCENT spokeswoman Capt. Kayshel Trudell.
In addition to the current generation of ISIS fighters that U.S. troops are fighting, “There is a literal ‘ISIS army’ in detention in Iraq and Syria,” warned Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of CENTCOM.
Currently, about 10,000 suspected ISIS fighters and leaders in Iraq, another 20,000 suspected ISIS militants in Syria are being held prisoner, Kurilla said in the CENTCOM press release.
Another potential threat remains that the children of ISIS fighters who are currently in custody and elsewhere could become “the potential next generation of ISIS,” Kurilla warned.
More than 25,000 children are being held at the Kurdish-run al-Hol detention refugee camp in Syria, he said.
“These children in the camp are prime targets for ISIS radicalization,” Kurilla said. “The international community must work together to remove these children from this environment by repatriating them to their countries or communities of origin while improving conditions in the camp.”
Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 18, Syrian Democratic Forces arrested 300 suspected ISIS fighters inside the al-Hol camp and captured 55 pounds of explosives and 25 hand grenades, CENTCOM announced at the time. On Sept. 20, U.S. troops helped Syrian Democratic Forces stop two vehicles carrying seven suspected ISIS fighters from attacking the camp, according to CENTCOM.
The U.S. military’s strategy in Iraq and Syria appears to continue to rely heavily on killing or capturing mid-level and senior ISIS leaders. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the group’s former top leader, allegedly killed himself and his family in February during a U.S. Special Forces raid in Syria. Accused ISIS bombmaker Hani Ahmed Al-Kurdi was captured in Syria by Special Forces in Syria; Alleged senior ISIS leader Mahir al-Agal was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Syria.
In December, CENTCOM announced that U.S. troops had captured another suspected ISIS senior leader in Syria, who was identified only as “al-Zubaydi.”
Separately, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who became ISIS’ leader after the death of his predecessor in February, was killed in October by the Free Syrian Army — a different organization than the Syrian Democratic Forces, CENTCOM confirmed in November.
“We are committed and, more importantly, our partners in Iraq and Syria are committed to the enduring defeat of ISIS,” said Army Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, commander of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S-led multinational military coalition to defeat the terror group.
But even though ISIS lost the last bit of territory that it controlled nearly four years ago, the group continues to fight, launching 74 attacks in Syria and 73 attacks in Iraq between July and September, according to a Nov. 16 report from the Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Even though elements of ISIS continue to carry out attacks, the group has not formed a major insurgency, nor does it control areas the same way as when it had a physical caliphate, said retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who led U.S. troops in Iraq during the 2007 surge and also served as head of CENTCOM.
“The ISIS remnants survive because the underlying issues (social alienation, lack of employment, political marginalization, governmental corruption, and, of course, religious extremism) that broadly give rise to Sunni Arab grievances in Iraq and Syria have not been fully addressed,” Petraeus told Task & Purpose.
He also noted that the Iraqi security forces are still working to enhance their own capabilities needed to defeat ISIS, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as intelligence fusion.
“What is required, needless to say, is U.S. advice, assistance, and enablers that can help our partners on the ground address all of these issues (including beyond just the military and intelligence aspects),” Petraeus said. “However, that has proven sensitive and challenging, given the Iraqi political situation — and it is not yet clear that the new government will fully embrace what the US might provide, though the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service reportedly recognizes the critical importance of what the U.S. uniquely can provide.”
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