Recent estimates published by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, indicate that the number of ISIS fighters between Syria and Iraq is up to 10,000, and that this terrorist organization continues to threaten international peace and security, despite its regional defeat and the losses it suffered.” drive it.”
The publication of these estimates comes at a time when ISIS is experiencing its worst conditions, having recently lost a number of leaders of the first and second ranks, the last of whom is “Maher Al-Aqal”, the leader of the organization in Syria, as a result of an attack carried out by the United States.
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ISIS suffered a new blow with the killing of its leader in Syria, known as “Maher Al-Aqal”, after he was targeted by a US drone while traveling on a motorcycle, near the Jandares district in the Afrin region in the countryside of Aleppo in northern Syria.
Although ISIS has recently lost the lands it controlled in Syria and before that in Iraq, its security operations and attacks have not stopped as it periodically takes targets against various military forces, spread in separate areas of influence, which issuing warnings A precedent that the “activity” still exists, and may expand to a new stage.
The UN Under-Secretary-General’s report, published on Tuesday, said the threat posed by ISIS and its affiliated groups is greater in conflict-affected societies, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries.
Voronkov stated that the leadership of “ISIS” manages assets “with a value between 25 and 50 million dollars”, and that “this amount is much lower than the estimates made only three years ago.”
According to the UN official, the organization resorts to “a decentralized internal structure, through which the ISIS leadership incites its followers to carry out attacks, and maintains the ability to direct and control the flow of funds to affiliates around the world control.”
While the existence of such structures may not come as a surprise, “it provides an alarming reminder that the organization has long-term goals and aspirations,” according to Voronkov.
“Doers and Potentials”
Eight years ago, ISIS broke the border between Syria and Iraq and established its “Islamic Caliphate.” The “caliphate” declared in 2019 in the Syrian Baghouz region.
The year 2019 is considered a turning point in the path of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and this is related to the fact that the circumstances that followed this time were a series of radical developments, which began with the murder of “Al -Baghdadi” at the hands of US forces, ending with the transformation of activities into battles within what experts describe as “Lone Wolves strategy”.
This strategy was followed during the successive period of the leadership of ISIS, “Abdullah Qardash” (Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Qurashi), who was also killed by US forces in February 2022, to be replaced by a “third caliph ” called “Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hashemi Al-Qurashi”.
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The last six months of 2022 are considered “exceptional” for ISIS, and specifically its leaders, who have become a regular target of the “strategy to strike from the air”, which the United States of America has largely pursued, in his ongoing war against the terrorist organization.
Although the organization has no areas under its full control or locations that can be determined by maps since the fall of its “caliphate”, its fighters continue to carry out attacks, which local experts believe are gradually escalating, especially in Syria, which they vast desert (Badia) spread.
However, experts, including the researcher into extremist groups, Hassan Abu Haniyeh, point out that the announced estimates of the number of ISIS fighters, which are put at 10,000, cannot be “accurate”, especially when talking about ” acting personalities in ISIS. “
Abu Haniyeh said in an interview with Al-Hurra: “We need to focus on the methodology on which the recent reports are based, especially from the point of view of defining the members and who they are, and who are the perpetrators and the latents . “
Estimates of ISIS fighters are not separated from political and geopolitical goals. Sometimes the numbers are exaggerated and exaggerated, as Abu Haniyeh puts it.
After ISIS lost its geographical space, and the stage it entered after 2019, ISIS transformed its states “from military to security”, while adopting the approach of decentralization and guerrilla warfare away from “classical wars”.
“At the moment there is decentralization from the top of the pyramid down to the states and districts.”
The researcher believes that the number “10,000” could be private as “security and latent cells.” And this category can also be more than that, adding, “while the actors in the states, divisions and districts, their number is not more than two or three thousand.”
Contrary to its previous strategy, ISIS is not trying to carry out major attacks now, but is instead waiting for “geopolitical imbalances”, according to Abu Haniyeh.
The researcher explains: “It is necessary to distinguish between the perpetrators and the latents, and between the security cells and the heads. The perpetrators do not exceed 3,000, and the rest are a reserve force waiting for any transformation, especially in areas of the security vacuum.”
“Enjoy the opportunity”
In July 2021, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a report stating that “ISIS’s strategic perception of geography, time and victory is a critical component of its potential future resurgence.”
Although ISIS has suffered severe blows over the past fifteen years, it has proven its great resilience, even expanding its territory and diversifying its operations in 2020 and 2021.
The report added that the organization “has a unique and well-established ideology, shaped by the statements of its senior leaders, and is adapting well to the recent regional losses.”
From this point of view, and going forward, it will be necessary to address and understand the ideological practices of the organization, in order to effectively combat any future revival of it.
While the researcher on the affairs of extremist groups, Muhammad Safar, believes that “the number of 10 thousand” is large for ISIS fighters, he indicates that the latter may try to take advantage of the opportunity, to reach the “prime” , after killing the leader of the “Al-Qaeda” organization, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an American hit.
Zero told Al-Hurra that “the number mentioned in the United Nations report is large in Syria and Iraq, especially because we are talking about organized individuals. If the numbers are correct, these groups can carry out effective operations, especially since ISIS is a state in this region, and it is on familiarity with the details, topography, and ethnic and social interactions in it.
However, the researcher does not deny the idea that “ISIS still represents a threat, since it is the only strongest and most organized in the arena, compared to other extremist groups, such as, for example, Jabhat al-Nusra.”
He adds that “ISIS may be able to take advantage of the weakness of al-Qaeda, and it wants to take its place at the moment to confront what it calls the forces of global arrogance.”
He continues: “The organization sees the killing of Al-Zawahiri as an opportunity, especially in the absence of a leader for Al-Qaeda. He now wants to be in charge.”
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‘close to reality’
Meanwhile, after ISIS lost all its urban centers in Iraq and Syria in March 2019, the terrorist organization began to follow new strategies.
These strategies depend on a combination of attacks with small mobile groups in security-fragile areas, and security and military operations represented in the planting of explosive devices, suicide attacks, and sabotaging infrastructure to pressure governments.
Some areas of the governorates of Diyala, Kirkuk, Anbar, Nineveh, Salah al-Din and others near the capital, Baghdad, are still within the circle of security threats from ISIS fighters.
The same applies to Syria, where ISIS cells are active mainly in the Syrian Badia region, and its outskirts are spread over several governorates, such as: Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Hasaka.
Raed Al-Hamid, head of the department of security studies at the Baghdad Center for Foresight Studies, believes that the numbers mentioned in the UN report are “to some extent realistic”.
Al-Hamid explains to Al-Hurra that “the United Nations, which is based on the reports of the countries concerned, sets the figures according to certain criteria that differ from the criteria accepted by researchers or the military.”
For example, the United Nations estimates the number of sleeper cells, “suspected fighters”. “These are estimates that can approach or move away from reality as long as these cells are difficult to verify their numbers.”
The security researcher adds that the follow-up of the operations carried out by the terrorist organization’s fighters indicates that most of the operations, including attacks on the sites and barracks of the Iraqi army, the Popular Mobilization or the Peshmerga, or on the Syrian regime forces and partner or allied forces, are usually carried out by “mobile groups” of varying numbers. Between 10 to 15 fighters.
As for the other operations, such as the “setting up of ambushes, the planting of explosive devices, physical liquidation operations or kidnappings,” these “require only a small number of fighters, possibly not reaching five fighters in the highest estimates,” according to Al-Hamid.
In the latest edition of “Al-Naba’ magazine”, issued weekly by the central media of ISIS, the organization has carried out 10 operations in Iraq and six operations in Syria.
This means that the organization carried out 16 operations during an entire week, while its operations in Iraq exceeded only 100 operations per day during the year 2013.
The above leads, according to Al-Hamid, to the fact that “the number of armed ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria may not exceed between 2 to 3 thousand militants conducting combat operations. It may be less.”
Al-Hamid points out that “it is necessary to consider the reality of the problems the organization experienced with recruitment after its failure to manage the local population during the years of its control over cities in Iraq and Syria, together with another fact that the organization is gradually being depleted, either by the assassination or arrest of its leaders and fighters, and the difficulty of compensating them.” .