Islamic State
August 12, 2020

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, issued a stark warning on Wednesday about the Islamic State in Syria.

McKenzie, participating in a virtual U.S. Institute of Peace forum, said that in parts of western Syria, "conditions are as bad or worse" than they were prior to the terrorist group's rise in 2014, and "we should all be concerned about that." This region is controlled by the Syrian government, and insurgents there have a degree of freedom to move around. There is barely a U.S. presence in western Syria, McKenzie said, and the United States does not believe the regime will do anything to try to push back against the militants.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it's been difficult to transfer people out of Syrian refugee camps. One camp, al-Hol in northeastern Syria, has as many as 70,000 inhabitants, and it can be easy to radicalize people in these conditions, McKenzie said. "As young people grow up, we're going to see them again unless we can turn them in a way to make them productive members of society," he added. "We can either deal with this problem now or deal with it exponentially worse a few years down the road." Catherine Garcia

October 27, 2019

When rumblings of the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were first heard overnight before President Trump confirmed the news Sunday morning, it inevitably drew comparisons to the death of former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. But experts have warned the two events might not be so similar.

It mostly has to do with the differences in how ISIS and Al Qaeda are structured. The latter was heavily reliant on bin Laden's singular leadership and charisma, so while the terrorist organization still exists, it has weakened somewhat. Experts don't think that will necessarily happen with ISIS, which has placed a greater emphasis on organizational structure.

That is not to say Baghdadi's death is irrelevant; he was an important figure within ISIS and his absence will surely negatively affect his followers and could hinder international recruitment which has already slowed in recent years, but analysts expect ISIS will be able to withstand the loss in some capacity, meaning the U.S. and its allies will likely have to continue to prevent the group's resurgence. Tim O'Donnell

October 27, 2019

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the Islamic State, has been killed, President Trump confirmed Sunday morning.

President Trump announced Baghdadi was killed in a secret U.S. military operation Saturday evening in Syria. The president did not spare many details when addressing the press, telling reporters Baghdadi was killed while being chased by dogs into a dead-end tunnel, where "whimpering, crying, and screaming," he detonated his explosive vest, reportedly killing himself and three children. Trump said Baghdadi's body was mutilated by the blast, but tests confirmed his identity. "He died like a dog," Trump said. "He died like a coward."

Trump said there were no American deaths in the operation, and 11 other young children were removed from Baghdadi's compound uninjured. Trump said the U.S. had the elusive Baghdadi under surveillance for weeks before launching the raid, which the president said involved eight helicopters flying over dangerous territory in Moscow-controlled airspace — the U.S. forces took off from and returned safely to an unspecified location.

The president thanked Russia, Turkey, and Kurdish forces in Syria for their assistance in allowing the U.S. to carry out the operation. One official speaking on condition of anonymity said the elite military unit, Delta Force, carried out the raid with support from the CIA and Kurdish forces. Read more at The New York Times and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

September 16, 2019

The Islamic State released a 30-minute audio recording on Monday, purportedly made by its elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

SITE Intelligence, a monitoring group, said Baghdadi uses the recording to encourage fighters to free ISIS detainees and their families being held in detention camps. Their efforts "must be redoubled," he directed the militants, and they should attack judges and interrogators questioning ISIS members. Baghdadi also brought up the United States, saying the country is "drowning in a quagmire" and losing troops in conflicts around the world.

It's unclear when the recording was made, but SITE says Baghdadi refers to events that took place in August. There is a $25 million reward for Baghdadi's capture, and Iraqi intelligence officials believe he is hiding somewhere along the border between Iraq and Syria. In April, video footage of Baghdadi was released, the first time he was seen on film in nearly five years.

ISIS is no longer in control of large portions of Syria and Iraq, but is still carrying out attacks in the countries, and has money and fighters to spare, authorities warn. The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General sent a report to Congress in August, saying the group's resurgence is linked to the Trump administration taking troops out of Syria and removing diplomats from Iraq, The Wall Street Journal reports. Catherine Garcia

December 18, 2017

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone Sunday, marking the second time in a week that the leaders have reached out to exchange praise, AFP reports. The weekend call involved the Kremlin thanking the CIA for intelligence that prevented an Islamic State terrorist attack at the Kazan Cathedral, one of the most famous buildings in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

"No Russian lives were lost and the terrorist attackers were caught and are now incarcerated," the White House wrote. "President Trump appreciated the call and told President Putin that he and the entire United States intelligence community were pleased to have helped save so many lives."

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also commented publicly: "There are certain sporadic contacts between our security services but in this particular instance this [was] rather useful information that helped save a lot of lives," he said.

Last week, Trump reached out to Putin to thank him for praising America's "strong economic performance," and briefly discussed tensions with North Korea, Politico reports. Jeva Lange

December 10, 2016

The United States will send an additional 200 troops to Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday while speaking in Manama, Bahrain, bringing the total known number of American soldiers in the war-torn country to 500.

The new forces will head to Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital city, where they will bring "the full weight of U.S. forces around the theater of operations, like the funnel of a giant tornado," Carter said. "By combining our capabilities with those of our local partners, we've been squeezing [ISIS] by applying simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains, through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum," he continued.

Congress has yet to pass an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) in Syria, a point which has been largely ignored in Washington since a bipartisan push for an AUMF failed last year when American special forces were first sent to Syria. "The Administration's announcement that it will deploy Special Operations Forces into Syria to combat [ISIS] marks a major shift in U.S. policy," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) at the time, arguing that the Constitution's "War Powers Resolution requires Congress to debate and authorize the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria." Bonnie Kristian

June 29, 2015

June 29 marks one year since a group of Sunni rebels declared themselves a caliphate — an Islamic government headed by a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad — and announced the establishment of the Islamic State.

"It's been a great year for ISIS," head of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center Matthew Henman told NBC. "This would be close to a best-case scenario for them."

"They've been able to hold ground for a year," James Mattis, a retired Marine general and former chief of the U.S. Central Command, said. "The longer they hold territory it becomes this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again."

As their anniversary falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said earlier that jihadist attacks would be rewarded "tenfold" by Allah throughout Ramadan's duration, from June 17 through July 17. ISIS has since claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Tunisia that killed 38 and a Kuwait City mosque bombing that killed 27.

The United States military has spent close to $3 billion in Iraq and Syria since it began airstrikes last August to protect the Yazidis, a minority group ISIS threatened to massacre. Jeva Lange

June 23, 2015

At least 3.09 million people have been displaced in Iraq between January 2014 and June 4, 2015 the International Organization for Migration reports. More than 276,000 people were displaced between April and June alone, due to fighting in Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi, which eventually slipped out of Iraqi control and into the hands of the Islamic State. Roughly 638,000 of the displaced are accommodated in shelters.

There are more than 50 million displaced people worldwide, according to the 2015 Global Peace Index report. Jeva Lange

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