The outgoing head of U.S. Central Command warned Congress on Thursday that the fight against the Islamic State is ongoing, despite the terrorist group’s stream of defeats on the battlefield.
“Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment but the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over,” Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.
The general noted that the organization’s territory has shrunk from 34,000 square miles at the height of its power to an area of less than a square mile in the town of Baghouz, located near Syria’s border with Iraq.
CENTCOM CHIEF: “What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization, but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities,” Gen. Joseph Votel testified today pic.twitter.com/3FBaI0XCRi
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) March 7, 2019
“What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge,” Votel said.
“The ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized,” he added, based on observations from U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.
— Quentin Sommerville (@sommervilletv) March 7, 2019
The four-star general urged continued vigilance against the Islamic State terror group, even as its leaders and fighters have been dispersed throughout the region.
The Pentagon estimates there are between 10,000 and 20,000 Islamic State fighters left in Iraq and Syria, who have gone to ground and are preparing to fight an extended insurgency, the Washington Examiner reported.
Votel highlighted how the allies handle the Islamic State fighters and their families now in captivity could have long-range implications.
“The broader international community will need to determine how we deal with the thousands of fighters and family members now being held and safeguarded by the (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces),” he said.
“In my view, this is a serious generational problem that if not handled properly will sow the seeds of future violent extremism.”
According to #SDF sources 18.500 people from #Baghouz surrendered since evacuation started In the last month. More than 45.000 in total since beginning of the operation in Hajin have surrendered to SDF #TwitterKurds pic.twitter.com/mbCxmkuPdp
— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) March 6, 2019
Votel said that President Donald Trump has reversed course and decided he will keep a small U.S. force in Syria with the focus on training local forces to counter what the general described as the “ISIS clandestine insurgency.”
The Associated Press reported that thousands of people came out of the village of Baghouz on Monday.
U.S.-backed forces slowed their push on the Islamic State terror group’s stronghold last week to allow civilians to leave.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said a large number of Islamic State fighters were among those who left and “surrendered to our forces.”
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