The US military published a quarterly report on ISIS to Congress on Tuesday that said the group is a “low-level” threat but warned it could operate “indefinitely” in the remote deserts of Syria.
The US presence in Iraq and Syria is under the umbrella of the US-led anti-ISIS coalitions. Washington does not want to give up its occupation of either country, so even though ISIS no longer holds significant territory, the US military has an interest in inflating the threat from the group.
“Coalition partners in Iraq and Syria continued to rely on Coalition support to conduct operations, and ISIS remained entrenched as a low-level insurgency,” the Pentagon’s inspector general wrote in an introduction to the report.
According to the report, US Central Command said ISIS “likely has sufficient manpower and resources to operate indefinitely at its present level in the Syrian desert.” CENTCOM also identified ways that the “desert environment limits the capacity of ISIS to grow or strengthen its insurgency there.”
The US has about 900 troops in northeast Syria. On paper, the US mission is to help the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fight ISIS. But the occupation is also part of Washington’s economic warfare against the government in Damascus. On top of crippling sanctions, the region of Syria where US troops are deployed is where most of the country’s oil fields are, keeping the vital resource out of the hands of Damascus.
The Biden administration recently announced it is ending the US “combat” mission in Iraq by the end of this year. But the US will keep troops in the country under an advisory role. There are currently about 2,500 US troops in Iraq, and it’s not clear how many will be pulled out once the mission is changed.
Besides supporting the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS, the US occasionally bombs Iraq’s Shia militias, who are sworn enemies of ISIS, and fought on the same side as Washington during major battles from 2014 to 2017.