Its Territory May Be Gone, but the U.S. Fight Against ISIS Is Far From Over – The New York Times

Separate estimates, including one by the United Nations in February, put the group’s strength even higher. James F. Jeffrey, the American special envoy for Syria, said this month that there are 15,000 to 20,000 armed Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, “although many are in sleeper cells.”

American officials said that the Pentagon was concerned about Islamic State fighters returning from the front lines to stoke violence in their hometowns across Iraq and Syria. The United States will continue its bombing campaign against the extremist group and to assist local forces in both countries who are the first line of defense against Islamic State fighters.

“ISIS’s post-caliphate insurgency in Iraq is accelerating faster than efforts to prevent it by the U.S.,” concluded an analysis this month by the Institute for the Study of War.

The United States now has 5,200 troops in Iraq, mostly spread between two main bases, including Al Asad in western Anbar Province, which Mr. Trump visited in December. In Syria, Mr. Trump has ordered all but a residual American force of 400 troops to withdraw. Armed drones and warplanes will continue to provide air support.

Legislation pending in Iraq’s Parliament could limit United States military operations in the country by reducing the number of American troops there, restricting their movements or even demanding a full withdrawal by a certain, if yet unspecified, date.

Mr. Jeffrey made clear that the liberation of the declared caliphate — an area that nearly five years ago stretched to the size of Britain — did not eradicate the Islamic State’s potency.

“There is a great concern,” he said.

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