The Islamic State may be altering its organizational structure from a "caliphate" into an insurgency emphasizing guerrilla warfare tactics as the terrorist group is pushed out of Iraq, the commander of U.S.-led coalition ground forces in Iraq said Wednesday.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky told reporters at a press briefing that the U.S. military is preparing the Iraqi security forces for ISIS to morph into a less centralized but equally committed fighting force, the Daily Beast reported.
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"It's not this organized insurgency that people think of," Volesky said. But "we are seeing these indications… That's what we are preparing the Iraqis for."
Volesky's comments imply that ISIS will maintain a presence in Iraq despite coalition advances and Defense Secretary Ash Carter's recent statement describing a final defeat for the jihadist group, the Daily Beast noted.
It's much more than a change of name, or even a shift in tactics. It could well mean that there will be no "lasting defeat" of ISIS, even if it loses control of Iraq's second-largest city, despite Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's claim of such a victory just four days ago, when the Iraqi campaign for Mosul began. After two years of either training local forces to fight ISIS or hitting the terror group with airstrikes, U.S. officials said they believe it still could evolve into the kind of threat that has plagued Iraq since shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
Fighting that insurgency cost as much as $2 trillion, according to one estimate, and the lives of nearly 5,000 American troops. At its peak, 170,000-plus forces were required to weaken that uprising. It would be the most bitter of ironies if, years later, Iraq once again devolved into a guerrilla war.
Volesky warned that troops in Iraq are seeing smaller, less coordinated attacks from ISIS fighters, indicating the threat may develop into more of an insurgency.
His statement comes as Iraqi and Kurdish forces are moving closer to pushing ISIS out of Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq. U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq have suggested the liberation could take a few weeks or as much as a couple of months.
The liberation of Mosul would be a major victory for the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people, but insurgency attacks in the country are on the rise, the Daily Beast reported.
There are nearly daily bombings, usually targeting Shiite-dominated communities and Iraqi security forces. A series of attacks last week killed at least 55 people in Baghdad. And in July, at least 324 people died when a truck bomb struck a popular shopping area in central Baghdad, the deadliest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.
ISIS still controls the Syrian city of Raqqa, its self-declared capital, but Kurdish and U.S. officials are reportedly discussing a possible liberation of that city as well.
"As long as they still hold Raqqa, ISIS doesn't need to abandon the caliphate," a U.S. official told the Daily Beast.