Original article by Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Kurdistan24

A US soldier stands guard during a security patrol outside Manbij, Syria, June 24, 2018. (Photo: US Army/Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster)
A US soldier stands guard during a security patrol outside Manbij, Syria, June 24, 2018. (Photo: US Army/Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Between April 21 and May 4, 2019, the US-led coalition conducted ten strikes consisting of 40 engagements against ISIS targets in Iraq, the US-led coalition said on Tuesday, while no strikes were conducted in Syria.

A spokesperson for the US army told Kurdistan 24 that there is less demand for coalition airstrikes in the northeast of Syria, in support of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

“The SDF are continuing to find, fix, and finish the remnants of Daesh [Arabic acronym for ISIS] within their area of operations. However, with the end of linear combat operations that we saw as the SDF were pursuing Daesh fighters in territory they once controlled, the demand for larger weapon strikes like those that come from aerial systems has diminished,” US Army Colonel James “Scott” Rawlinson, Colonel, Director of Public Affairs and Spokesperson Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), explained in a statement to Kurdistan 24.

However, he confirmed the SDF continue to root out Islamic State sleeper cells.

“The SDF are using tactics that are more surgical in nature as they root out Daesh sleeper cells, weapons caches, and support bases. However, the CJTF remains prepared to support them in their pursuit of an enduring defeat of Daesh,” he added.

Despite the SDF and the US-led coalition announcing the defeat of the extremist group’s so-called caliphate on March 23, Islamic State sleeper cell attacks continue as security forces continue to detain militants in previously liberated territories.

A Defense Department inspector general report to the US Congress on Tuesday also highlighted that “the threat of ISIS clandestine networks and sleeper cells within Syria remained” after the liberation of Baghouz.

The report also said that the initial withdrawal announcement by US president Donald Trump in December was also likely taken by “ISIS as an opportunity to start shifting resources from the battle in the MERV [Middle Euphrates River Valley in Deir al-Zor] to reinvigorate a broader insurgency” in Syria.”

“CJTF-OIR [US-led coalition] said that this transition to insurgency was demonstrated through an increase in frequency and coordination of ISIS attacks in urban areas north of SDF positions in the MERV.”

In February, the White House announced it would keep some 200 US troops in Syria, even after the planned withdrawal.

Nevertheless, the coalition insisted “ISIS’ capability” was “significantly reduced from a year ago,” but that “cells continued this quarter to carry out attacks while they also worked to rebuild networks and capabilities.”

The SDF forces face a severe challenge from the growing insurgency. New research shows there were more bombings, ambushes, and assassinations committed by the Islamic State in April than at any other time this year. 

According to data collected by the Rojava Information Centre (RIC) and open source researcher Caki, provided to Kurdistan 24, there was an increase of 94 percent in sleeper cell and bomb attacks since January and 30 percent since March in the northeast of Syria.

“Two-thirds of attacks (58) concentrated in newly-liberated Deir al-Zor region, but the number of incidents in Raqqa (14) and Manbij (6) also doubled month-on-month,” the RIC said.

“At least 37 people died in attacks in Deir al-Zor, where daily IED

[improvised explosive device]

attempts are compounded by armed ambushes, decapitations and assassinations,” it added.

A senior SDF commander, Khalil Wahash al-Naber, told the Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on Tuesday, that “from sleeper cells to ISIS, Turkey, or the Syrian regime,” they carried out 180 attacks in the Deir al-Zor region last month.

Most of these attempts failed, he added but confirmed there is a direct plan with the Internal Security Forces, intelligence and US-led coalition forces to eliminate ISIS sleeper cells.