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US Military Says It Can't Take Out Remaining ISIS Fighters Because They're Hiding In Tunnels
As 2018 draws to a close, it is unclear if U.S. troops and their Arab-Kurdish allies have made a dent in ISIS’ last stronghold in Syria.
A spokesman for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria estimated in December 2017 that fewer than 3,000 ISIS fighters remained in both countries. Since then, defense officials have said consistently that roughly 2,000 ISIS fighters are trapped in Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, repeated the 2,000 figure when briefing reporters on Tuesday. However, it is difficult to determine exactly how many ISIS fighters remain in their last enclave in Syria because they are dug in deeply and the terrain is difficult for combat operations, he said.
"The numbers game is difficult to count because ISIS is underground – they’re in tunnels; they’re hiding," Ryan said. "So it’s not like we watch them walk into to a building and we’re counting as they go in. They’re spread apart."
When asked about why the numbers had not changed, Ryan told Task & Purpose in an email there could be a variety of factors: “In October, Gen. Dunford stated new followers were arriving, mostly over the Turkish border, at a rate of about 100 a month."
“The early estimates from December probably did not take into account the elaborate industrial strength tunnels where many ISIS were hiding in the MERV and the size of the area. The 3,000 may have been conservative and currently, we believe it is around 1,500-2,000, and more difficult to reinforce now with stricter border security throughout the region.”
Ryan didn’t mention that the Syrian Democratic Forces were on the verge of crushing ISIS in Syria when the Turks invaded and occupied the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin in January, bringing the offensive to a halt. Although combat operations against ISIS were later renewed, the momentum had been lost.
Still, the U.S. military and SDF have made progress in cutting off ISIS’ logistics and money flow and containing the remaining fighters to the Middle Euphrates River Valley, Ryan said at Tuesday’s briefing.
Right now, ISIS now holds less than 1 percent of its original geographic caliphate, which once stretched across Syria and Iraq, Ryan said. By way of comparison, U.S. military officials estimated at the start of the year that ISIS still held about 2 percent if its former territory.
Ryan acknowledged that ISIS had recently caught the Syrian Democratic Forces off-guard in a surprise attack, which reportedly began late last week. About 80 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting, but the U.S. allies have managed to regain all the territory that was lost.
“It’s a very difficult fight,” Ryan said at the briefing. “This is definitely not Mayberry. People are dying. For the ISIS side, it’s fight to the end. Basically, they came up with a counter-attack in poor weather conditions.
“Anyone can have a good day any given Sunday and they had theirs. Sometimes war is give and take. You’re going to have good days and bad days. The enemy just happened to have one good day and then the SDF beat them right back.”
The U.S. government failed to effectively account for nearly $715.8 million in weapons and equipment allocated to Syrian partners as part of the multinational counter-ISIS fight, according to a new report from the Defense Department inspector general.
On Feb. 19, 1945, more than 70,000 U.S. Marines conducted an amphibious assault to take the Island of Iwo Jima from fortified Japanese forces. Over the next 36 days nearly 7,000 Marines would be killed during the battle, which is regarded as one of the bloodiest of World War II, as they faced hidden enemy artillery, machine guns, vast bunker systems and underground tunnels. Of the 82 Marines who earned the Medal of Honor during all of World War II, 22 medals were earned for actions on Iwo Jima.
Now, 75 years later, 28 Marines and Sailors who fought on Iwo Jima gathered to remember the battle at the 75th and final commemoration sunset ceremony Feb. 15, 2020, at the Pacific Views Event Center on Camp Pendleton, California.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has long been seen as an apologist for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whom she met during a secret trip to Damascus in January 2017.
Most recently, a video was posted on Twitter shows Gabbard evading a question about whether Assad is a war criminal.
Since Gabbard is the only actively serving member of the military who is running for president — she is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard — Task & Purpose sought to clarify whether she believes Assad has used chlorine gas and chemical weapons to kill his own people.
The Army is almost doubling its purchase of new bolt-action Precision Sniper Rifles as its primary anti-personnel sniper system of choice, according to budget documents.
Air Force gunsmiths recently completed delivery of a new M4-style carbine designed to break down small enough to fit under most pilot ejection seats.