Raids net eight ISIS members in Syria as US and partners ramp up operations
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 2020
U.S.-backed forces in Syria captured eight Islamic State group fighters and affiliates, along with weapons, documents and military equipment, during a large-scale operation alongside American special operations troops last week, the military said Thursday.
The coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces have stepped up efforts to stop a potential ISIS resurgence in the country’s northeastern provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hassakeh, conducting “multiple raids each week,” Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement.
The news came as U.S. Central Command warned that ISIS “remains cohesive,” with a war chest of hundreds of millions of dollars available to it, following the October killing of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In last week’s clearance operation, hundreds of Kurdish-led SDF commandos and coalition forces raided several compounds Jan. 31 to isolate and capture an ISIS sleeper cell, the coalition said.
But first, they danced. A 19-second military video shows the troops kitted up and performing a “motivational, pre-mission amp up,” said Army Capt. Charlie Boisner, a spokesman for the task force.
Footage also shows U.S. mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles alongside SDF armed trucks and a bearded man in what looks like a U.S. uniform with an American flag patch, interviewing a detainee.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, commander of the coalition’s special operations task force, credited the SDF with conducting “intelligence-driven operations” to take ISIS fighters off the battlefield and “keeping pressure on ISIS networks.”
“The defeat ISIS mission in Syria has proceeded uninterrupted in recent weeks,” Hill said in the statement.
About 500 American troops remain in Syria, mostly in the northeast, to help combat a potential ISIS resurgence. The U.S. troop presence is about half of what it was in October, before the U.S. pulled out of northern areas near the border with Turkey in advance of a Turkish incursion.
That move did not significantly affect ISIS capabilities, CENTCOM officials told the Defense Department Inspector General in a report published this week.
Still, based on its online claims, the group appeared to increase its attacks from about 55 a month to 66 after the incursion, the Defense Intelligence Agency told the IG.
On Wednesday, Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative on Syria and envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, pushed back on reports of increased ISIS activity, saying that despite a “slight increase,” the attack levels remain “fairly low.”
“We are not concerned beyond our normal level of concern about the need to defeat ISIS,” said Jeffrey, who last month said 14,000 to 18,000 ISIS fighters remain.