Scattered attacks are still being carried out by militant cells in Iraq, where the Daesh group is headquartered, and a senior military official estimated on Sunday that there are still up to 500 active fighters in the country.
However, anti-militant coalition member and Iraqi general Qais Al-Mohamadawi emphasized that Daesh has “lost its ability to attract new recruits” because it is now based in isolated desert and mountain hideouts.
Within Iraq and neighboring Syria, Daesh is estimated to still have “5,000 to 7,000 members and supporters,” “roughly half of whom are fighters,” according to a United Nations report published last month.
In 2014, Daesh extremists launched a campaign across large portions of both countries to establish their self-proclaimed “caliphate,” which was characterized by mass murder, torture, rape, and slavery.
Daesh cells continue to target security forces and civilians in both countries, despite the fact that US-backed counteroffensives ended their territorial hold in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019.
On Saturday, US Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla used an alternative acronym for Daesh to warn of the ongoing threat of a “ISIS army in detention,” referring to the thousands of suspected fighters and relatives being held in vast detention camps.
On Sunday, General Mohamadawi, the deputy commander of the Iraqi operations unit working with the international anti-militant coalition, stated that hundreds of Daesh fighters remain active in Iraq.
“Intelligence agencies have reported that there are no more than 400 to 500 Daesh fighters in three or four provinces,” he said at a press conference.
After a military operation on February 26 killed 22 Daesh members and destroyed a “training camp” in Al-Anbar province, the group “lost its ability to attract new recruits,” he said.
“Sustained counter-terrorism operations” in both countries, according to a United Nations report released last month, had a significant impact on Daesh.
It claimed that across Syria, the group still maintains cells with 15 to 30 members and uses “guerrilla warfare tactics” against government forces, other fighters, and civilians.
To “leverage the porous Iraqi-Syrian border and retain maneuverability to evade attacks” while attempting to “rebuild and recover,” Daesh cells in Iraq hide out in remote mountain regions, according to a UN report.
The report stated that Daesh had begun investing in hotels and real estate to launder money and engage in cattle rustling to raise funds, and that its “dwindling cash reserves” were estimated to be between $25 million and $50 million.