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Watchdog: IS 'resurging' as U.S. troops leave Syria

By Darryl Coote

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Five months after losing the last of its territory in Syria and amid a withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Islamic State is "resurging," a Pentagon watchdog said.

"Despite losing its territorial 'caliphate,' the [IS] solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria," the U.S. Department of Defense's internal watchdog said in a report published Tuesday.

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IS has been able to regroup through exploiting the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces' and the Iraqi Security Forces' inability to sustain long-term operations, conduct multiple operations simultaneously or hold territory cleared of IS fighters in the first quarter of this year, it said.

News of IS's resurgence comes as the United States has been withdrawing troops with only a small number now remaining in northeastern Syria and near the Jordanian border.

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However, the drawdown has already been negatively felt on the ground in Syria, according to Glenn A. Fine, principal deputy inspector general of the Department of Defense.

"The reduction of U.S. forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the [IS] resurgence," he wrote in a letter that accompanied the report. "[Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve] also said that the drawdown could cause U.S.-backed forces in Syria to look for 'alternate partnerships and resources' to replace the reduced U.S. support."

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The lack of support has prevented the SDF from providing more than "minimal security" at camps for internally displaced people, specifically at al Hol in Hasakah province where several thousand IS family members reside. This has created "uncontested conditions" to spread IS ideology, the report said.

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The terrorist group is also attempting to strengthen its influence among Sunni-majority provinces in Iraq.

U.S. Central Command said that while IS militants in both countries have carried out targeted assassinations, ambushes and suicide bombings, IS in Iraq has been able to establish "a more stable command and control node and logistics node" to carry out large-scale coordinated attacks with militants from Syria who fled following the fall of its last Syrian stronghold in March, according to the report, adding that its strategy in Syria is to create turmoil in territory it has lots to assert its power while challenging authority.

In both countries, IS is attempting to maintain constant attacks over a wide area to create the illusion "it is everywhere and can strike with impunity where it pleases," the report said, citing USCENTCOM.

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According to CJTF-OIR, there are between 14,000 and 18,000 IS militants in Syria and Iraq, including some 3,000 foreigners who left their homelands to fight with the jihadists.

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