As published on Washington Examiner:
More than 10,000 members of the Islamic State survived the fighting that drove the organization from its territory in Iraq and Syria, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“The physical caliphate is defeated, but ISIS is not,” Michael Mulroy, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said Monday. “There’s upwards of 10,000 ISIS fighters and support elements within Syria and Iraq. And they are completely unrepentant.”
Mulroy’s sobering warning comes amid a flurry of terror threats from ISIS four months after President Trump declared victory over the jihadist group. It reinforces recent acknowledgments from U.S. officials that terrorism, including attacks by ISIS, will pose a danger to the West for the foreseeable future.
“That’s something that we intend or expect to deal with for many years to come,” Mulroy said at the Center for a New American Security.
That admission came the same day ISIS boss Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi went public for the first time since 2014 in a video in which he downplayed the significance of the lost ground.
“The battle of Baghouz had ended, and in it, the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the cross towards the ummah of Islam was clear,” Baghdadi said, mentioning the final Syrian town the U.S.-led coalition took from ISIS in March. “As for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz.”
Suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 250 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which FBI Director Christopher Wray said demonstrated the group’s enduring threat. Last week, Wray warned Westerners not to become “a little bit blasé” about terrorism.
“There’s a difference between resigning yourself to terrorism as a fact of life and becoming apathetic and numb to it,” Wray said Friday. “So finding that balance between staying vigilant, staying on the balls of our feet, taking it seriously, and not being consumed or distracted by it is, I think, where we need to be.”
Trump declared in December via Twitter, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He’s since backtracked, saying those commentsshouldn’t be taken to mean that the group has been eliminated. “You never say you won, because you have a couple of whack jobs go and blow up a store, people get killed; they blow up something else, people get killed,” the president told reporters earlier this month.
Mulroy didn’t declare victory in his Monday remarks. “This has transitioned to ‘ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS,’ but I would say that in a way that doesn’t minimize how important that is, because that’s not going away,” he said. “We do expect to be there for the long haul.”