Homeland Security

General: ISIS Fighters Hiding in Iraqi Mountains and in Civilian Areas

Iraqi security forces working at the scene of a suicide bombing in Baghdad on Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The deputy commanding general for U.S. forces supporting the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria said today that members of the terror group have taken refuge in remote areas and blended into civilian populations, but he isn’t ready yet to classify them as insurgents.

Via video from Baghdad, Brig. Gen. James Glynn (USMC) told reporters that Iraqi Security Forces “continue to pursue the few ISIS fighters that seek to threaten the people of Iraq, and clear previously ISIS-occupied areas, making them safe for residents.”

“The campaign against ISIS has resulted in over 4.5 million people in Iraq liberated from the evil of ISIS, and we congratulate the government of Iraq on their success, and are proud to stand beside them,” he said. “However, we must not lose sight of the fact that much work remains to ensure the enduring defeat of this evil terrorist ideology. ISIS has demonstrated its desire to return to its terrorist roots, with the bombings and attacks that have killed innocent civilians in Ramadi, Nasiriyah, Baghdad and elsewhere over the past several weeks.”

Twin suicide bombings struck central Baghdad’s al-Tayaran Square on Monday, killing 26 and injuring 95 people. The area had been crowded with construction workers.

Glynn said Iraqi forces are trying “to root out and destroy the remaining ISIS fighters and the influence they attempt to peddle,” but “we anticipate this will take some time, since ISIS fighters are hiding in the mountains and amongst the civilian population.”

He called the Baghdad attack “another example of the cowardice, evil and the desperate acts that ISIS and other violent extremists who remain — who want to remain relevant throughout this area of operation will execute.”

Asked if ISIS had morphed into an insurgency, the general said it was “too early to make that kind of an assessment.”

“There are still remnants of ISIS who reside in a cellular structure who seek to bring instability to local areas, in particular population centers. And that remains as it has for some time the focus of the Iraqi security forces and their counterterrorism forces, specifically,” he said. “This did not allow those elements to form into a network or something that could look like an insurgency.”

That’s not necessarily an insurgency, Glynn explained, because “there’s no indicator of any coordination.”

“It’s merely a matter of disparate cellular structures trying to have some legitimacy, some recognition. And frankly, to be, at this point, to be disruptive,” he added. “I think that’s what you saw in the double suicide vest attack in Baghdad, which is a disruptive act on the behalf of an organization focused on violence.”

Pressed on whether these attacks were in coordination with the terror group’s leadership at all, the general replied that “there are remnants of ISIS who have been isolated and face some pretty dire choices.”

“And they are to try to come together with potentially with other elements, or to try to relocate somewhere else,” he said. “And what the government of Iraq and their very capable security forces are focused on is ensuring that that doesn’t happen. To lock them down where they are and to give them no alternatives but to be captured or killed.”

“…The so-called caliphate has been dismantled at this point, and so ISIS has no recognizable structure of the bureaucracy that they had previously sought to achieve. And so, with very few and dwindling options here in Iraq, ‘What capabilities are they trying to sustain here? And where are they trying to locate them?’ is really what we focus on more than anything else.”