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Islamic State Terrorist Group Showing No Signs of Panic as Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Calls for ‘Total War’

Even civilians who have been rescued from IS say there are few signs the terror group is ready to fall apart

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FILE - Image taken from video shows a man purported to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State militant group, delivering a sermon. In an audio recording released late Tuesday, he called on IS fighters in Mosul not to retreat in the face of approaching Iraqi and Kurdish forces. VOA

Fewer than 5,000 Islamic State fighters trying to hold onto the Iraqi city of Mosul are being urged to fight to the death.

“Know that holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame,” the terror group’s leader and self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi exhorted in an audio recording released via social media late Tuesday.

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“Do not retreat,” he said. “This total war and the great jihad only increased our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that this is all a prelude to victory.”

The message from Baghdadi is the first since last December and comes nearly three weeks into the Iraqi and Kurdish campaign to retake Mosul, which has been under IS control for two years.

U.S. intelligence sources say there is no reason to doubt the audio’s authenticity and agree, based on the content of the remarks, it was likely made recently.

[bctt tweet=”U.S. defense officials say it appears Islamic State Terrorist Group is picking its fights carefully. ” username=””]

IS command and control

A U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said officials there were not yet ready to verify that the voice on the recording was that of the IS leader but acknowledged the message was clearly “an effort to rally the troops.”

Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants in southeast of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 3, 2016. VOA
Smoke rises from clashes during a battle with Islamic State militants in southeast of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 3, 2016. VOA

“This is the type of thing that a leader who’s losing command and control and ability to keep everybody on the same page says,” Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, Col. John Dorrian told reporters via a video conference from Baghdad.

“We don’t believe that it’s going to work,” he added.

But intelligence officials believe the recording may also be intended to dispel any notions or rumors the reclusive Baghdadi has been killed.

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Some analysts examining the pacing and the rhetoric in the audio message think the significance of the recording could be even greater, suggesting a key shift in the way IS has been fighting up until now.

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s statement is the fastest in tempo and strongest among his speeches,” according to a Tweet by Hassan Hassan, a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy who has written extensively about IS.

“The new tone/message tells us clearly that ISIS wants the remaining strongholds to be a big show,” Hassan added in another tweet. “It won’t withdraw as it did before.”

Choosing their fights

There are indications that IS fighters are prepared to make such a stand in spite of overwhelming odds.

“They don’t seem to be panicking,” a U.S. official told VOA.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said despite the faster than expected advance of Iraqi and Kurdish forces, IS fighters in and around Mosul were showing no signs of abandoning their training or giving up their well-known tactics.

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U.S. defense officials also say it appears IS is picking its fights carefully.

“In some villages, they slice through them like butter, and there’s very little resistance at all, and ISIL up and leaves,” Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis said Wednesday when asked about the type of resistance Iraqi and Kurdish forces were encountering around Mosul.

“There are others that put up quite a fight,” he added.

Iraqis fleeing the conflict in Kokjali are seen on the road east of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 3, 2016. VOA
Iraqis fleeing the conflict in Kokjali are seen on the road east of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 3, 2016. VOA

Even civilians who have been rescued from IS say there are few signs the terror group is ready to fall apart.

“I spoke to this large group of civilians who had been marched by ISIS north,” said Human Rights Watch senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille after visiting with civilians at Jeddah camp, near Qayyarah airfield south of Mosul.

“They made it sound fairly organized,” she said. “ISIS came door to door, knocked on each door, told people they had to leave. They had vehicles kind of patrolling the group as they were walking.”

How long?

The question is just how long the group will be able to maintain that type of coherence, with the toughest and bloodiest fighting still ahead.

And while in the past IS fighters have often fled in the face of overwhelming force, that may not be the case for those forces left in Mosul.

“If they’re still in Mosul, given that they’ve known there’s a massive buildup of troops in that area, that means they probably want to fight till the end,” said former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, now with George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

And with the number of likely escape routes shrinking, IS fighters may not have much of a choice. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Trump Announces Withdraw Of Almost All The Troops From Syria

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials, as well as members of the coalition actively fighting the terror group, have been reluctant to predict when final victory will be declared.

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump shows maps of Syria and Iraq depicting the size of the "ISIS physical caliphate" as he speaks to workers at the country's only remaining tank manufacturing plant, in Lima, Ohio, March 20, 2019. VOA

In late 2018, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw almost all of its troops from Syria, saying the Islamic State terror group had been defeated and there was no longer a reason to deploy U.S. forces in the war-torn nation.

The announcement led to the resignation of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who reportedly felt the drawdown was premature.

In the months since Trump announced the defeat of IS, he has wavered on whether the group has been vanquished. Sometimes he predicted that total victory would come in hours or days, while other times he has doubled down on the claim that the IS threat has been eliminated.

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Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS,” in a video released by the White House, to explain why the U.S. was pulling most of its troops out of Syria. VOA

Here’s a chronology of claims concerning the demise of Islamic State.

Dec. 19, 2018 — Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS,” in a video released by the White House, to explain why the U.S. was pulling most of its troops out of Syria.

Dec. 22, 2018 — Trump tweets that “ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains.”

Jan. 16, 2019 — Vice President Mike Pence declares in a speech at the State Department that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.” Earlier that day, four Americans were killed in Syria by an IS suicide bomber.

Jan. 30, 2019 — Trump tweets about the “tremendous progress” made in Syria and that the IS “Caliphate will soon be destroyed.”

Feb. 1, 2019 — Trump repeats that “We will soon have destroyed 100 percent of the Caliphate.”

Feb. 3, 2019 — Trump tells CBS News, “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate, which is the area — the land, the area — 100. We’re at 99 percent right now, we’ll be at 100.”

Feb. 6, 2019 — Trump predicts that the declaration that the coalition has captured all IS holdings “should be formally announced sometime, probably next week.”

Feb. 10, 2019 — Trump tweets that the U.S. will control all former IS territory in Syria “soon.”

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Feb. 16, 2019 — Trump tweets, “We are pulling back after 100 percent Caliphate victory!” Pixabay

Feb. 11, 2019 — At a rally in El Paso, Texas, Trump says the announcement that 100 percent of Islamic State territory has been captured will be coming “maybe over the next week, maybe less.”

Feb. 15, 2019 — At a news conference Trump says a statement about “our success with the eradication of the caliphate … will be announced over the next 24 hours.”

Feb. 16, 2019 — Trump tweets, “We are pulling back after 100 percent Caliphate victory!”

Feb. 22, 2019 — Trump tells reporters “In another short period of time, like hours — you’ll be hearing hours and days — you’ll be hearing about the caliphate. It will — it’s 100 percent defeated.”

Donald Trump
March 2, 2019 — At a conference, Trump tells attendees, “As of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria.” VOA

Feb. 28, 2019 — In a speech to U.S. troops in Alaska, Trump says, “We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it’s 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate.”

March 2, 2019 — At a conference, Trump tells attendees, “As of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria.”

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March 20, 2019 — Trump shows reporters a map that plots the territory still held by the Islamic State in Syria and promises that area “will be gone by tonight.”

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials, as well as members of the coalition actively fighting the terror group, have been reluctant to predict when final victory will be declared. Some also note that even when IS no longer controls any territory, fighters who escaped capture and are hiding within civilian populations could still pose a security threat. (VOA)