- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS, has reportedly released his first recorded speech in roughly a year and is calling on followers to wage “jihad,” Reuters reported on Wednesday.
- Meanwhile, ISIS reportedly has far more fighters in Iraq and Syria than previously thought, according to recent reports.
- A recent United Nations report suggests ISIS has between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters in the region, nearly as many as it had at the height of its power in 2015.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, has reportedly released his first recorded speech in roughly a year and is calling on followers to wage “jihad,” Reuters reported on Wednesday.
This comes amid reports the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, still has thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria despite the collapse of its physical caliphate. The Pentagon has also warned that the terrorist group is “well-positioned to rebuild.”
Baghdadi has been reported killed or wounded on a number of occasions but is now believed to be in hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border region.
It’s difficult to verify whether the voice on the newly released recording is indeed Baghdadi’s, but in it he purportedly stated, “For the Mujahideen (holy warriors) the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs.”
This purported speech from Baghdadi urges ISIS followers to persevere after a year full of major losses for the terror group.
Baghdadi’s last audio recording came in September. He urged his followers to target “media centers of the infidels” and burn their enemies.
It’s estimated ISIS has almost as many fighters as it did at the height of its power
ISIS once controlled a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria that was roughly the size of the state of Maryland, but suffered major loses over the past year or so fighting against the US-led coalition and has retreated into the desert.
With that said, multiple recent reports show ISIS has far more fighters than previously thought.
A report from Voice of America based on Pentagon data released earlier this month suggests there are still 28,600 to 31,600 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. A separate report from a United Nations panel of experts concluded that ISIS has between 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in the region.
To put this into perspective, ISIS had roughly 33,000 fighters at the height of its power in 2015 when it still controlled a significant portion of territory and was a self-styled caliphate.
What’s more, a report from the Soufan Center released in early July warned that ISIS was attempting to make a comeback by employing a tactic it relied upon before its rise to power in 2014 – the targeted assassinations of Iraqi security personnel.
‘ISIS remains a threat’
President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that his administration had more or less defeated ISIS. In April, for example, Trump tweeted, “the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?'”
But such assertions appear to have been premature based on these new revelations and recent comments made by US military officials.
Defense Secretary James Mattis in late June, for example, said there’s still “hard fighting ahead” against the terror group.
More recently, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson in mid-August told VOA that ISIS is “well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge.”
“ISIS probably is still more capable than al-Qaida in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic State and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq,” Robertson added. “ISIS remains a threat, and even one ISIS fighter is one too many.”
ISIS is also active in Africa and Afghanistan
ISIS has also established a footprint in Africa, and according to recent data from the UN and researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, has as many as 9,000 fighters across the continent.
Additionally, ISIS has become a serious threat in Afghanistan, killing 34 students in an attack on an educational center in Kabul just last week.
In short, despite significant coalition victories against the terror organization over the past year, the fight against ISIS is apparently far from over.