Flashpoints

ISIS exploits COVID-19 with little success, US troop deployments to Iraq on track despite pandemic

The Islamic State has gained little for its efforts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, while U.S. troop rotations to Iraq are still on track despite the ongoing pandemic.

Lt. Gen. Pat White, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Friday that while ISIS has sought to exploit the pandemic, attacks carried out by the Islamic extremist group are on par with last year’s tally.

White said that ISIS claimed 152 attacks in April 2019 and there were 151 claimed attacks in April 2020. But CNN reported, citing a U.S. defense official, that ISIS has increased attacks in recent weeks.

The increased attacks by the terror group come as Iraqi forces have been forced to divert resources and manpower to enforce curfews due to COVID-19, CNN reported.

White said that the curfews may have actually had a negative impact on ISIS fighters and their ability to launch attacks. The curfews “constrained the ability of an adversary to move above ground,” he said.

Anyone moving at night or during the day “became an easy target,” White said.

In this July 23, 2019, file photo, security forces detonate an explosive device placed by the Islamic State militants during a search operation in Taramiyah, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq. (Hadi Mizban/AP)
ISIS extremists step up attacks as Iraq, Syria grapple with virus

The renewed mayhem is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos.

White explained that ISIS has “failed miserably” to achieve recently stated goals, and that the jihadi group was unable to capitalize on recent operational pauses due to COVID-19.

“I was surprised that Daesh did not take advantage of some of the pause in some of the empty space that might have been an opportunity for them," he told reporters.

White also noted that recent attacks have lacked sophistication of the ISIS organization that once held sway over vast territory across Iraq and Syria from 2016 to 2017.

“What we have seen is that the attacks we have been witnessing here over the past weeks are inconsistent with an organization that we knew of in the past," he explained.

During the height of ISIS’ control of territory, the jihadi group was capable of launching “complex” attacks using bomb-laden vehicles, small arms and rockets all “simultaneously,” White said.

White said now the majority of attacks are small arms, rifles and mortars with no VBIEDs.

White acknowledged that COVID-19 did slow the coalition down “a little bit."

But partner forces are continuing to put pressure on ISIS while U.S. troop rotations are continuing with implemented safety guidelines and quarantines to stem the spread of the virus.

White said the U.S. military was “proceeding forward with most of our rotational forces that were already planned.”

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