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Defeated? Officials warn of continued threat posed by ISIS


Intelligence officials on Tuesday offered stark warnings of the threats posed by the terrorist organization ISIS, a message in contrast with President Trump's declarations that the group has been defeated.

While Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel said the U.S. had made significant gains against ISIS, the report they oversaw argues that any lifting of pressure on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could allow it to regroup.

“The group will exploit any reduction in [counter-terrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations,” the report states.

The report also warned that ISIS is still likely to try to attack the United States.

“ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States,” it said.

President Trump last year announced he was removing all U.S. troops from Syria because ISIS had been defeated. The decision led to the resignation of Defense Sec. James Mattis and other officials, as well as criticism from GOP lawmakers.

American forces in Syria have fought with Kurdish troops against ISIS. Many fear that a U.S. withdrawal could leave the Kurds open to attack from Turkey, who label those forces as terrorists.

A suicide bombing in a Syrian town killed four Americans shortly after Trump made his announcement, and ISIS claimed credit for the action. Experts have both pointed to the attack as showing that ISIS remains a persistent threat in the region.

Coats and Haspel painted the picture of an adversary that has been weakened, but notably did not describe ISIS as having been completely defeated. 

Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS "still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria” and “thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses.”

Haspel said that the U.S. is “going to work very hard to finish that mission," referring to the fight against ISIS.

Coats said the U.S. “should not underestimate the ability of terrorist groups particularly ISIS and affiliated groups,” as well as al-Qaeda tied groups.

“ISIS will continue to be a threat to the United States, and we’re going to have to continue to keep our eyes on that…as the realization that this terrorism threat is going to continue for some time,” Coats said.

The intelligence assessment found that ISIS is “perpetrating attacks in Iraq and Syria to undermine stabilization efforts and retaliate against its enemies” and that the intelligence community believes that ISIS will “seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term.”

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