CNN has cited two unnamed sources as saying that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic had prompted the US-led military coalition to pause or suspend key aspects of its anti-Daesh campaigns in Iraq and Syria.
One of the sources, a senior coalition official, told CNN that over the past few weeks, Daesh has tried to exploit the instability caused by COVID-19 and a drastic fall in global oil prices in order to increase its attacks in Iraq.
Despite the sophistication of the terrorist attacks not having increased, there has been a "slight uptick in the quantity of [Daesh] activity”, according to the official.
Even so, the source went on, the coronavirus-related concerns added to many of the coalition missions in Iraq being scaled back or adjusted, including those related to coalition troops accompanying Iraqi units or the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces during raids on Daesh targets.
“In the pre-COVID [-19] world those [types of missions] were still going on”, while “in the current COVID world those aren't going on”, the source said.
At the same time, they underscored that if “there was a target that was important enough, a Baghdadi raid-type thing, of course we'd go out there and do something like that with our partners or potentially even unilaterally”, in an apparent reference to former Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US special operation in northwestern Syria last year.
COVID-19 Reportedly Forced US Military to Close Some of Its Bases in Iraq
The official also mentioned the closure of several US military bases on Iraqi territory in March, facilities that were then transferred to Iraqi security forces in a sign of the forces’ “success in their fight against ISIS [Daesh]”, as a coalition spokesperson said at the time.
They, however, claimed that the bases were closed months ahead of schedule due in large part to the impact of COVID-19, and that the initial plan stipulated their closure in the fall or early in 2021.
The official also touched upon a hiatus in coalition efforts to train Iraqi troops, saying that “it was put on pause, really, by the Iraqis”.
“They paused that training mission because of COVID. They didn't want the forces out in the field on large groups doing training, as you can imagine. We've done the same thing in the US context back stateside”, the source added.
According to them, the training pause prodded the coalition to send hundreds of international military trainers back home. “They really wouldn't have been doing much here. That's really why the training mission left", the source said.
They concluded by pointing out that the coronavirus pandemic is also having a “substantial impact” on Daesh operations.
“We see in the reporting that ISIS is actually concerned about running their ratlines of supply and logistics and spreading COVID amongst their force, same sorts of things we're having to deal with”, the official noted.
Daesh Attacks in Iraq Show No Sign of Ceasing
In December 2017, the Iraqi leadership declared victory over Daesh after fighting the group for more than three years.
Still, the international US-led coalition against the terrorist group, which was established in 2014, remained in the country to assist the government in creating a sustainable Iraqi security force that could secure the nation's borders and ensure a lasting victory over the terrorist group.
Despite these efforts, however, terrorists continue to conduct raids and attacks across the country.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State), a terrorist group banned in Russia and a number of other countries