Daesh is defeated but its ideology still threatens the world, says US military chief

Although militant group Daesh has been militarily defeated and no longer holds any territory in Iraq or Syria, its ideology remains unconstrained and continues to pose a threat to the Middle East and the wider world, a US military chief said on Monday.

Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, which is tasked with eliminating the Daesh threat in Iraq and Syria, said that despite the work of the US military and its allies in the region, Daesh still has the capability to reconstitute and carry out attacks in the region and beyond.

Speaking during a joint press briefing with Dana Stroul, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, attended by Arab News, McFarlane praised the efforts of Washington’s partners in Iraq and Syria, in particular the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia group in the northeast of the country that includes Kurdish and Arab tribal forces. It is leading the fight against Daesh in Syria, aided and supported by the US military on the ground, he explained.

“Thanks to the efforts our partners, supported by the coalition, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in Daesh activities and effectiveness across our area of operation,” he said, adding that Ramadan this year had been one of the most peaceful periods in recent years.

Stroul said the US military and its regional partners conducted 37 operations against Daesh in March — 28 in Iraq and nine in Syria — during which nine militants were killed and 18 captured. The most important aspect of these missions, she added, is that they are never carried out by US military alone but always with local partners.

American military operations in Iraq have shifted to an “advise, assist and enable” role, Stroul said, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead in day-to-day operations against Daesh.

On April 17, the US military participated in a helicopter raid in northern Syria during which Abd-Al-Hadi Mahmud Al-Haji Ali, a senior Daesh leader in the country, was targeted and killed.

“This raid deals a significant blow to ISIS operations in the region but does not eliminate ISIS’ capability to conduct operations,” the US military said at the time, using an alternative name for Daesh.

After the raid, Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, said: “Though degraded, ISIS remains able to conduct operations within the region, with a desire to strike beyond the Middle East.”

On Monday, McFarlane said US efforts to prevent the reemergence of Daesh continue through a number of activities, including the repatriation of detainees and displaced persons held in camps in northeastern Syria.

“We remain laser-focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said, adding that it is essential to the long-term defeat of the group that all detainees and displaced persons, who tend to be the relatives of militants, are returned to their countries of origin.

So far, about 1,300 people have been repatriated from Al-Hol camp in Syria, which remains a particular strategic problem for the US and its coalition allies.

Stroul said about 10,000 Daesh militants have been detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces and about 50,000 displaced persons are held in Al-Hol camp.