A report to Congress by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve has been published online. The 136-page PDF covers the period of April 1 to June 30, 2020. The publication summarizes the quarter’s key events in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Some key aspects of the report include the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on operations, Coalition force consolidation, uncertainty of a continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Syria, changes in advisor support to the ISF and SDF, and more. Much of the training and advising effort for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the ISF took place by virtual means – phone calls, VTCs, emails, etc.
Iraqi Government. Five months of political deadlock ended after Iraq’s parliament approved a new government. The new government opened up the ability of the Iraqi government and the U.S. to begin talks to determine the future of their bilateral relationship.
SDF and It Alignment? The departure of U.S. troops from Syria is always a possibility. The Syrian Democratic Front may very well adapt to that reality with a new relationship with the Syrian regime. Since the October 2019 Turkish troop invasion of northeast Syria (territory held by the SDF) the SDF relationship with Russia and the Syrian government has warmed. Both have provided some protection to the Kurds against Turkish and Turkish-aligned forces. The Russians continue to build up in Syria. The CENTCOM commander said (June 2020) that Russia’s presence in Syria gives them the opportunity to “throw sand in our gears and make it harder for us” to operate in the region.
ISIS. The Islamic State conducted a brief surge of operations during Ramadan and took advantage in the slow-down of operations by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Coalition troops due to COVID-19. However, the surge was not sustained. There is concern by some observers of the conflict that ISIS will recover and resurge once again if the Coalition reduces its efforts in the Middle East.
ISIS Prisoners. After the fall of the ‘physical’ Caliphate in Syria thousands of Islamic State fighters and their families were placed in detention camps set up and run by the SDF. Many of them are foreign fighters. Most of the countries of origin of these foreign fighters are unwilling to repatriate them or bring them to justice.
Internally Displaced Persons. There are thousands of internally displaced persons in camps throughout Syria living in rough conditions. The international community is struggling to maintain security and provide services in these IDP camps. The potential of coronavirus to spread through these camps is a huge concern.
Overall, the report points out that ISIS is contained and the U.S. is positioned to slowly downsize its forces. In the past few months several U.S. bases in Iraq have been turned over to the ISF. Dialogue with the Iraqi government continues to determine the future scope of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, April 1 – Jun 30, 2020.
Read online or download the report here. 136 pages, PDF.