Homeland Security

U.S. General: Senior ISIS Leaders 'are Hiding from the Coalition'

ARLINGTON, Va. — Several thousand ISIS fighters remain in Syria and Iraq after local forces kicked the terror group out of their civic centers in Raqqa and Mosul, while those local forces also deal with terrorists who have been captured or surrendered during operations.

Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, special ops commander for Operation Inherent Resolve, said via video link from Baghdad today that the estimate of ISIS’ strength in the remnants of their caliphate ranges “anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 Daesh that are left throughout the Euphrates River Valley — from up around Deir ez-Zor all the way down to Al-Qa’im in Iraq.”

Jarrard said he didn’t have “good figures” on how many ISIS fighters were killed in the liberation of Raqqa, ISIS’ onetime declared capital in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces lost more than 1,200 fighters in the overall drive to take Raqqa; 434 fighters of those fighters were killed within the city itself. More than 2,500 SDF fighters were wounded in the overall operation.

“The SDF — Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, all of them — continue to honor them in their sacrifice,” he said of the multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic force of women and men. “And the world owes them a significant debt for all that they’ve done to help us rid the world of this evil.” SDF fighters “continue to amaze us as we watch them.”

The commander also didn’t have a number of how many ISIS fighters surrendered, but they “continue to be detained by the SDF in their facilities in northeast Syria.”

“There were a lot of ISIS that were considered ISIS because of their relationship with the ISIS — the Daesh. But a lot of them were not necessarily fighters. They were in administrative positions, working in hospitals, helping feed the large number of Daesh on the battlefield,” Jarrard explained. “And so a lot of those that were captured have been turned — that were local Syrians — have been turned over to their tribal leadership underneath their control. And the SDF leadership feel comfortable that the tribal leadership and the tribal code in northeast Syria will make sure that they maintain control of those individuals. And so we feel pretty comfortable that that is the case.”

“I can tell you from experience, from driving around, that the security there provided by the local civil councils and the internal security forces is such that it is a very low threat of any Daesh attacks, or any Daesh, period, in northeast Syria,” he noted. “They still have the ability — closer to the front line of the enemy — as we get closer to the Euphrates River Valley, to infiltrate around the SDF positions. But, once you get away from the front lines, it is a relatively secure place throughout northeast Syria.”

The general said there’s “a very low probability that there will be any Daesh sleeper cells that remain in Raqqa or any of the locations that the SDF have liberated,” particularly as there’s not ease of movement in Raqqa at the moment with so much unexploded ordnance that needs to be cleared.

Recently a heavy rainstorm hit the city, he said, setting off some of the explosive devices left by ISIS.

Jarrard said the coalition continues to “pressure” senior ISIS members “across the network — senior leaders, the facilitators, all of them. And we have had tremendous success.”

“But it is getting harder” to locate and track leaders because they’ve been on the move.

“As I mentioned at the outset, I think that the senior leaders are hiding from the coalition… I’ve been involved in Iraq here for a long time, in our counterterrorism efforts. And we normally find the senior leaders hiding in basements, or holes in the ground, or caves,” he added. “And I suspect, when we find the senior leaders now, that’s where they’ll be.”