Despite repeated claims by the Trump administration that ISIS has been defeated, US intelligence assesses that the terror group “very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.”
The Worldwide Threat Assessment, released by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats Tuesday, also states that with the recent loss of territory, “ISIS will seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term.”
Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday that ISIS “has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide.”
But he also clearly stated that the group maintains a presence in Iraq and Syria.
“ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
With the expected withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the US intelligence assessment is that the Assad regime will not focus on clearing ISIS from Syria.
“The regime is unlikely to immediately focus on clearing ISIS from remote areas that do not threaten key military, economic, and transportation infrastructure, judging from previous regime counter-ISIS efforts,” according to the new report.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters Tuesday that ISIS has lost “99.5% plus” of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, adding, “within a couple of weeks, it will be 100%.”
“ISIS is no longer able to govern in Syria, ISIS no longer has freedom to mass forces, Syria is no longer a safe haven,” Shanahan said.
Members of the Trump administration have repeatedly sought to downplay ISIS’ reach and impact in Syria since President Donald Trump announced in December that the US would pull its troops from the war-torn nation.
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touted the gains the US and its partners have made in the fight against the terrorist organization.
“It should not go unnoticed that we’ve also defeated the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq alongside more than six dozen nations in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” Pompeo said in remarks to the World Economic Forum delivered via satellite Tuesday.
Pompeo noted “there’s a lot more work to do,” but told those at the Davos, Switzerland, forum that “with your help I know we’ll achieve it.”
CNN reported last week that the US military has moved additional troops into Syria in recent days to help provide protection to other US service members as they withdraw under Trump’s directive.
The additional troops that have moved in are needed to provide security for troops and equipment as they are moved out by land and air as well a provide additional security on the ground as the number of US forces dwindles, officials said.
The number of US troops routinely deployed in Syria to fight ISIS, and assist local forces, has hovered between 2,000 and 2,500 in recent months at locations in northern, eastern and southern Syria.
Shanahan said Tuesday that the withdrawal was in its “early stages,” saying it was deliberate, “coordinated” and “disciplined.”
CNN’s Michael Conte and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.