Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, remnant militants are still prevalent in eastern Syria and in the country's vast desert region.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have continued their anti-ISIS operations on Syria’s eastern borders. While the militant group no longer has territory under its control, ISIS’ sleeper cells continue to operate throughout Iraq and Syria. In their latest operation, the SDF and the International Coalition launched an attack to the east of the Euphrates River, to destroy ISIS hideouts.
“At the strategic level, ISIS has been affected by the Coalition’s strikes. There is no longer an ‘Islamic’ state or a geographical state for ISIS,” said Ahmad Rahhal, an SDF military commander. “However, this does not mean the end of the group. It still has new abilities, capabilities, and tactics to follow. ISIS can adapt to the situation it is now facing.”
Security experts have said that following ISIS’ defeat, the militant group will rely on insurgency tactics, to pose further threats to civilians and the authorities. Since the SDF announced that ISIS had been defeated in Syria, the militant group launched several attacks on SDF points, resulting in the killing of more than a dozen fighters.
“I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to eliminate the group’s risk,” said Mohammed Dmeir Bagh, a Kurdish security expert. “The next steps are critical to eradicating ISIS sleeper cells that pose a great threat to the entire region.”
According to a US estimate, there are still thousands of ISIS militants in Syria alone, with more across the border in Iraq.
Because of this, the security apparatuses in both Iraq and Syria have continued to launch operations in regions formerly held by ISIS to dismantle their cells and destroy their hideouts and weapons arsenals.
Furthermore, the lack of clarity in regards to the fate of captured ISIS militants and families has also caused many to believe that despite ISIS’ military defeat, the ideological war will take longer to win.