U.S. Warns That Turkey's Syria Offensive Giving IS “Time and Space”

Just this month, the acting director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said at least 14,000 IS fighters remain at large in Iraq and Syria, part of an insurgency that is “alive and kicking.”

We think it’s substantially higher than that,” Russell Travers told an audience in Washington of IS’s fighting force, adding, “That number is going to do nothing but grow.”

U.S. and Kurdish officials also have warned IS could get a boost from 10,000 to 15,000 fighters being held in temporary, makeshift prisons run by the SDF.

While the inspector general’s report found fewer than 200 IS prisoners escaped SDF custody as a result of the Turkish incursion into northeast Syria, it concludes the situation remains precarious.

Both U.S. and SDF officials have repeatedly said the prisons, some now packed beyond capacity, cannot hold the fighters indefinitely.

There is also little hope that other military forces now operating in northeastern Syria — whether backed by Turkey, the Syrian regime or Russia — will offer much help.

Some militias backed by Turkey previously helped to smuggle ISIS fighters across borders and probably maintain low-level tactical ties to ISIS,” the report warned, citing the DIA.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are likewise proving to be of little threat to IS.

Although pro-regime forces regularly clash with ISIS in parts of southeastern Syria, they likely lack the will to carry out meaningful operations to ensure an enduring defeat of ISIS in northeastern Syria,” the DIA told the Defense Department’s inspector general.

IS in Iraq, Afghanistan

The situation in Iraq, while not as tumultuous as in Syria, is also uncertain, defense officials said.

Iraq’s military is “unable to retain control of territory cleared of ISIS in Salah ad Din province, and has limited access to ISIS support zones in both Salah ad Din and Diyala provinces,” the report found.

Additionally, Iraqi forces remain “largely unwilling or incapable of holding terrain in the mountains and central and southern wadis of Kirkuk province,” the U.S.-led coalition said.

Meanwhile, officials in Afghanistan claimed a major success Tuesday against IS, with President Ashraf Ghani telling a gathering in Jalalabad that the terror group’s Afghan affiliate has been destroyed.

We have obliterated Daesh,” he said.

Our strategy worked out very well,” Shah Mahmoud Miakhel, the provincial governor of Nangarhar province, added. “It’s not possible that they once again equip themselves in other areas of Afghanistan and threaten other parts of the country.”

U.S. officials late Tuesday were looking into the claims.

IS’s Afghan affiliate, also known as IS-Khorasan, has long been considered one of the terror group’s more dangerous branches, with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 fighters and ambitions to launch attacks against the West.

Jeff Seldin is VOA news reporter. This article is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA)