A bunch of takeaways from the latest US Inspector General report on anti-ISIS ops

Compiled By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

The new report is out.

“This is the 18th Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report on Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the overseas contingency operation to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The report covers the period April 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019, and summarizes the quarter’s key events and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work related to OIR.”

It can be downloaded here.

Here are a bunch of quotes from it, most of them are direct quotes, several are paraphrasing usually indicated with [ and ]. I have divided them into themes, whereas in the report they are divided differently.

  • CJTF-OIR said that ISIS in Iraq was able to establish a more stable command and control node and a logistics node for coordination of attacks, particularly after the arrival of ISIS fighters from Syria following the fall of the last ISIS stronghold in the MERV in March 2019
  • ISIS also exploits the gaps between the security forces of Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a swath of territory claimed by both sides.

Syria

  • Dayr az Zawr province in Syria, Arab residents protested against SDF management of provincial affairs, forced conscription of local men, and use of the province’s oil revenues
  • The SDF this quarter continued to hold about 10,000 ISIS fighters 
  • About 2,000 of the detainees are foreign fighters, and the remainder are Iraqi and Syrian nationals
  • This quarter, the SDF provided perimeter security at several Syrian IDP camps, including al Hol
  • CJTF-OIR completed a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria this quarter, 
  • Change of mission to counterinsurgency required the Special Operations Joint Task Force- OIR, a component of CJTF-OIR, to perform more partnered training, equipping, and reinforcing of the SDF
  • USAID and the DoS reported that they continued stabilization programs for northeastern Syria
  • [CJTF said that SDF sought partnerships due to US withdrawal]…”detrimental to the United States’ mission in Iraq and Syria, especially if the alternative to the United States does not share our vision”
  • CJTF-OIR said that the drawdown decreased the amount of resources and support available to these Syrian partner forces at a time when they need additional reinforcing for counterinsurgency operations against ISIS
  • [CJTF: SDF needs more training and equipping]
  • CJTF-OIR said that the relationship between the United States and U.S.- backed Syrian forces is “a symbol that holds great weight in the outcome of the region,”
  • [More information on affects of withdrawal is classified]
  • United States seeks to achieve policy goals outside of OIR, including a political solution to the Syrian civil war aligned with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for free and fair elections and a new constitution, among other items.
  • U.S. goals in Syria also include the removal of all Iranian-led forces and proxies in Syria.
  • The United States has asked 30 Coalition countries to provide additional troops to continue operations against ISIS in Syria
  • [Terror attacks in Syria by ISIS, April car bomb in Raqqah, bombing in Manbij]
  • ISIS has been successful in exploiting tension between local Arab residents and the Kurdish-led SDF by portraying the SDF as an occupying force
  • Popularity of ISIS in northeast Syria remains difficult to gauge [but ISIS is trying to maintain foothold by exploiting grievances against SDF and encouraging Arabs against conscription]
  • ISIS reestablished illicit financing
  • ISIS is resurging in Syria
  • SDF did Operation Talon Clearance this quarter 
  • [Russia blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching Rukban near Tanf] 
  • U.S.-backed Mughawir al Thawra (MaT), a 300-strong Syrian militia [at Tanf] 
  • Three main components of the Syrian partner forces and a few smaller elements. The largest combat force is the SDF,
  • Second partner force is the Provincial Internal Security Forces (PRISF),
  • third main group of partner forces is referred to as the Internal Security Forces (InSF),
  • The end strength for these main partner forces this quarter was around 100,000. According to CJTF-OIR, the desired end strength is 110,000, consisting of: 30,000 SDF, 45,000 PRISF, and 35,000 InSF. 1,600 recruited this quarter.
  • US supplied AK-47s and ammo
  • SDF reported 134 casualties: 31 killed and 103 wounded.
  • CJTF-OIR, the SDF this quarter was capable of unassisted raids against lower risk targets and advisor-assisted raids for higher risk targets.
  • Between March 24 and the end of the quarter, CJTF-OIR conducted 104 strikes against ISIS targets. Of these, 75 were in Iraq and 29 in Syria

But Hol is a ticking problem 

  • CJTF-OIR said that the SDF’s inability to provide more than “minimal security” at the camp has allowed the “uncontested conditions to spread of ISIS ideology” there.30 CJTF-OIR reported that due to the drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria, it lacks resources track the humanitarian situation in the camp.31 USCENTCOM reported that ISIS is likely exploiting the lack of security to enlist new members and re-engage members who have left the battlefield
  • At al Hol IDP camp, forcing it (CJTF) to rely on third-party accounts of the humanitarian and security situation there. 
  • A camp with approximately 70,000 IDPs including nearly 50,000 under age 18. 
  • USCENTCOM reported that ISIS likely will attempt to enlist new members from the large pool of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at al Hol
  • ISIS is seeking to establish safe haven in al Hol and preserve access to an already sympathetic population.
  • Estimates that 45,000 “ISIS supporters” reside at the camp.
  • SDF and the Kurdish internal police, known as the Asayish, maintain perimeter security at the al Hol camp and a few others, however, most of the 16 IDP camps in northeastern Syria have little to no SDF presence and a few are thought to have closed

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-07 at 12.28.17 AM.png

A map of camps in Syria (Lead IG Report)

Foreign ISIS members

450 French

800 Europeans

1,200 from other countries

 

Kurdish Peshmerga

  • Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs) composed of Peshmerga fighters from both parties. By 2013, about 28,000 of the estimated 200,000 Peshmerga were organized into unified brigades
  • OUSD(P)/ISA also reported that the Coalition continued this quarter to support the 14 non-partisan RGBs through the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF), which provides stipends and operational sustainment for RGB that are fighting ISIS. The PUK- and KDP- affiliated Peshmerga units do not receive CTEF funding.
  • Last year, the DoD budget included $290 million for the RGBs to fight ISIS. For 2020, the DoD’s budget proposal reduces RGB funds to $126 million

Iraq 

  • [In May Iran threats meant a reduction in embassy.] The order decreased the number of personnel under “Chief of Mission” authority from 563 to 312 and reduced U.S. Mission Iraq’s portfolio to four objectives. 
  • Protests continued in Basrah province this quarter
  • But a small number of U.S. forces [leaving Syria] with specialized capabilities moved to Iraq to continue to support the OIR mission
  • OUSD(P)/ISA reported that the CTEF is a congressionally- appropriated DoD budget line item to support the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and has received more than $1 billion in funding annually.
  • CJTF-OIR reported that due to limited ISF forces and the length of the Iraq-Syria border, ISIS has been able to identify routes where it can cross freely between countries.9
  • CJTF-OIR said that ISIS likely moves in small groups of 20 or fewer to reduce detection and limit loss of personnel if captured.
  • CJTF-OIR said that the ISF did not plan or conduct any deliberate operations along the Iraq-Syria border this quarter, but daily reports coming primarily from the 15th Iraqi Army Division in northwestern Ninewa province often include arrests for illegal border crossing and smuggling.
  • CJTF-OIR reported that maintenance problems resulted in only one of Iraq’s more than 10 CH-4 aircraft—Chinese unmanned aerial system (UAS) similar in design to the American MQ-9 Reaper—was fully mission capable…only two sorties since March of this year by Iraq’s fleet of more than 10 ScanEagle tactical UASs…shortfalls have resulted in a 50 percent decrease in Iraq’s fixed- wing ISR sorties compared to the same period last year
  • CJTF-OIR stated that its “Build Partner Capacity” model of working with the ISF will gradually “evolve towards greater emphasis on Enhancing Partner Capacity
  • Support of stabilization efforts in Iraq despite the April pledge of $100 million in additional stabilization funds for Anbar province…his $100 million contribution raises to $358 million the U.S. Government’s contribution to stabilization efforts in Iraq since 2015.
  • June 2019, U.S., Italian, and Iraqi officials announced the completion of the $530 million project to provide long-term stability of the Mosul Dam.
  • Many NGOs continue to report that some security forces—including PMF units and the ISF—have caused difficulties with access to communities needing assistance.

 

Iran

  • In Syria, according to the DIA and open-source reporting, Iran continues to field Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers, support the Lebanese Hezbollah, and command a Shia foreign fighter network that includes militias from Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
  • The DoS reported to the DoS OIG significant human rights abuses in Iraq by some members of the ISF, particularly Iran-aligned elements of the PMF operating outside of government control.
  • The order [in May due to Iran threats] also affected the approximately 4,750 contractor personnel stationed in Iraq
  • Iran has sent 3,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Syria and commands a network of Shia foreign fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah and various militias manned by Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis. Reports indicate that more than 100,000 Shia fighters trained and funded by Iran are operating in Syria and have improved their capabilities to launch missiles and drone
  • no specific increase in threats to U.S. forces in Syria from Iranian-backed forces this quarter
  • US sought removal of Iranian forces…Iran showed no signs of decreasing its activities in Syria this quarter, and in some instances increased its presence.
  • Lack of coordination between the various Iraqi security forces
  • The threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq increased in the past quarter as Iran sought to respond
  • The United States accused Iran of carrying out rocket attacks in Iraq that struck close to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and two bases occupied by U.S. forces, and also a June 19 rocket attack in Basrah. Iran denied involvement in the attacks.

Shi’ite militias

  • The DIA reported to the DoD OIG that Iraqi Shia militias aligned with Iran participated in operations across the Iraq-Syria border this quarter,
  • [Iraqi militias] joined pro-Syrian regime forces in a number of cross-border operations from al Qaim in Iraq and Abu Kamal in Syria.
  • DIA reported that among the militias that Iran supports in Syria, Iraqi Shia militias maintain a presence primarily in eastern parts of the country
  • The Iraqi militias and others also operate around the At Tanf Garrison, a desert outpost near the Jordanian border occupied by U.S. troops
  • Repercussions range from Iranian-aligned members of Iraq’s parliament trying to pass legislation to remove U.S. troops from Iraq to Iranian-backed PMF units harassing CJTF-OIR troops and operations. As a result, USCENTCOM has to devote resources to monitor and deter Iranian activity
  • [CJTF has no authority to counter Iran except self defense] However, some PMF leadership and units are closely linked to Iran and are geared toward protecting Iranian interests in Iraq.  OUSD(P)/ISA reported to the DoD OIG that U.S. forces in Iraq do not partner with PMF elements
  • Iran-affiliated PMF units routinely made public statements threatening the United States

 

Turkey tensions

  • Tension continued this quarter between Turkey and Kurdish elements of the U.S.-backed SDF. Turkey threatened operation…
  • Turkey has threatened since 2015 to conduct a unilateral military operation to target the YPG.
  • To prevent this outcome, Turkey has pressed for the creation of a 20-mile-wide buffer zone in Syria along the Turkish border.
  • Joint patrols, which began in November 2018, are part of the Manbij Roadmap, a June 2018 agreement between the United States and Turkey..rest of roadmap not implemented yet, by June nine joint patrols had taken place…other reassurance patrols…

Afrin

  • The conflict between Turkish and Turkish-backed forces and Syrian Kurdish forces in Afrin, a traditionally Kurdish enclave, is not part of OIR, although fighting there has twice diverted the attention of Kurdish elements of the SDF to such an extent that fighting against ISIS in the MERV was temporarily suspended.

Other

  • 124 fraud investigations related to CJTF:OIR
  • Debarred a procurement team leader for contractor SOS International (SOSI) at Camp Taji, Iraq, following allegations of improper contract actions in exchange for kickbacks.

 

——————–



Read Seth J. Frantzman’s account of the war on ISIS and its aftermath, After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East, available at Amazon.

Cover of After ISIS

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