Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 610, p. 45, on Dec. 22, 2017
Yes, the US has succeeded, through the International Coalition to Fight ISIS alongside Iraqi government forces and Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi, the Kurdish militias, the Russian forces and the various foreign paramilitary groups and the militias of Assad to gain control over 95% of the territory of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And yes, these forces managed to exterminate thousands of fighters of the terrorist organization and destroy most of its infrastructure, military and communicative, irrespective of whether tens of thousands of civilians were the victims of the effort to eradicate the organization and millions were displaced. However, the fight against terrorism is the international coverage of these crimes. Thus, the question that arises is: Is ISIS eliminated entirely or at least has the international terrorist risk been reduced?
US Secretary of State Tillerson’s response to a journalist’s question two days ago about Putin’s statement and previously Assad’s on elimination of ISIS was more than honest. The power of the organization has been broken, but its complete eradication is not true. From these words it is confirmed that ISIS still has two key elements: first, fighters and human resources and second economic power. I will analyze below what the upcoming risks are, unless they are prevented from the international system.
There are many reports that indicate the number of elements of the organization with numbers ranging from 25 to 40 thousand fighters. Some of them show that there are more than 5.000 Western-origin fighters in the organization. There is no clear evidence of how many of them are still alive. A recent official statement by a US official says he is less than 3.000. However, a local source pointed out to me that ISIS had an army of 10,000 fighters only in the Deir ez-Zor province and that during the battles of the organization against all the above mentioned forces, only 2,500 were killed. So 7,500 are still alive and are on the border between Syria and Iraq. To these should be added those who retreated from the battles in Iraq and those who left the city of Raqqa after agreement with the United States. So the number can reach ten thousand, which means that the organization is still able to grow at any time.
From an economic point of view, ISIS has lost all sources of income, which are mainly related to the sale of oil and gas. All the oil and gas fields under its control either were destroyed or their control was lost. Observers have not taken into account the amount of funds raised by the organization over the last three years. Some reports have estimated the agency’s budget to reach $ 2 billion in 2016. The organization has spent only a small part on soldiers’ expenses and its communications engine. Most of this money is still hidden and is obviously enough to reorganize.
In this sense, the scene becomes clearer, but the future is unknown. A Western diplomatic source assured me that there is information confirming that hundreds of members of the organization, especially those with Western nationalities, are starting to leave the areas of involvement through the territories controlled by the Kurdish militias. This information is very important, as western security services to date do not have exact numbers and names for Westerners belonging to ISIS. Therefore, their return can pose a risk in the future and, given their adequate financial support, Europe needs to be equipped for what is coming.
The Turkish-Syrian border, covering more than 700 kilometers, is a corridor that is easily bypassed by terrorists. As some of them may be wanted in their countries, the easiest choice is either to stay in Turkey under cover, or to go to Greece and hide in the Greek territory. Greece is therefore at greater risk than the other European countries, and the Greek government should prepare for this scenario by increasing the level of cooperation with the other European security services, exchanging the names of the wanted and increasing checks on illegal transits from the Turkish territory. Terror for the West is now a matter of time if it is not well prepared.