Last week, the Department of Defense cautioned against the emergence of a new breed of extremist militants shooting off of terror group Islamic State (ISIS) making a resurgence this year. The latest announcement from the Pentagon comes as military officials and national security insiders suggest a return of ISIS is because of several factors, including the dangerous conditions that have developed in the Middle East and Africa, allowing the opportunity for the terror group to become a significant power.
According to officials, some have described the potential resurgence as an impressive restoration for a terrorist organization whose caliphate once occupied a large region of Iraq and Syria, which was conquered by an American-led counterterrorism campaign.
Specialists also note that ISIS is organizing a revenge mission against the United States and its partners since the American strike in Syria last year killed the group’s top leaders and officials. While ISIS is not as strong as it was a decade ago, the group still contains thousands of fighters in its ranks which conduct lethal terrorist attacks. Pentagon analysts have also cautioned against the “strategic neglect” of the potential threat of an ISIS resurgence, given its responsibility for killing several individuals in Egypt’s Ismailia and injuring numerous individuals in a bombing in Kabul.
The most high-profile attack by the terrorist entity was the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in August 2021 that killed several American Marines while the Biden administration withdrew from the country. The attack in Kabul and other attacks across the Middle East and Africa emphasize the immediate risks still posed by ISIS. In the Sahel and Cabo Delgado provinces in Mozambique, ISIS still has a strong foothold in the country, recruiting and training fighters for their cause.
However, Pentagon personnel stated that there are more serious, long-term problems the US and its allies must face. Following the retaking of land from ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the US and its regional partners have captured tens of thousands of ISIS fighters detained in prison camps in both countries.
The ISIS detention sites in Iraq and Syria present short and long-term troubles for the U.S. and its allies, with concerns of potential prison uprisings. In January of last year, there was a breakout at the Al-Hasakah facility in Syria that ended in the deaths of hundreds of ISIS fighters and over 100 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
If prison uprisings and breakouts were to occur across the region, it would put thousands of trained ISIS fighters back on the battlefield despite being declared “territorially defeated,” according to analysts. Last year, the U.S. and its allies conducted more than 120 operations against ISIS in Syria and 191 in Iraq, resulting in the deaths and detentions of ISIS fighters and the deaths of leaders from both groups.
Former and current national security experts have warned the White House and Congress about the ongoing resurgence of Islamic terrorism in places like the Middle East and Africa, calling on the federal government and international community to implement a plan to fill the vacuum before Islamic State rebounds.