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ISIS regrouping in Iraq, Pentagon report says

NBC News logo NBC News 2/5/2019 Courtney Kube and Rich Schapiro
a group of people walking down a dirt road: Image: Iraqi children in the Nablus neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq, near an Islamic State billboard on March 12, 2017. © Aris Messinis Image: Iraqi children in the Nablus neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq, near an Islamic State billboard on March 12, 2017.

ISIS is regrouping in Iraq faster than in Syria, according to a new Pentagon report, underscoring the fluid nature of the security threat in the Middle East.

The assessment of ISIS's efforts to reestablish a foothold in the region comes as the U.S. military is moving forward with a plan to pull out of Syria.

Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as former defense officials, have sharply criticized President Donald Trump's plan to draw down troops in Syria, as well as in Afghanistan, citing the ongoing threat posed by the terror group.

Released Monday, the report confirms an NBC News story published last week that said a draft version of the report warned that ISIS could regain territory in six to 12 months in the absence of sustained military pressure.

"If Sunni socio-economic, political, and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria it is very likely that ISIS will have the opportunity to set conditions for future resurgence and territorial control," says the Department of Defense Inspector General Quarterly Report about Operation Inherent Resolve.

"Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley]."

The report covers the three months from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018. Trump announced on Dec. 19 that the U.S. military would be leaving Syria.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria," said Trump via Twitter, "my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

The report describes ISIS as a "battle-hardened force" that attracts an estimated 50 new foreign fighters per month and still generates revenue in Syria through "oil smuggling operations, taxation, and criminal activities such as extortion and kidnapping in areas they do not control."

Image: An Iraqi forces member walks past a mural with the ISIS logo in the outskirts of Mosul in on March 1, 2017. © Ahmad Al-Rubaye Image: An Iraqi forces member walks past a mural with the ISIS logo in the outskirts of Mosul in on March 1, 2017.

It says the group retains strength in rural swaths of Iraq but has devolved into a decentralized insurgency in Syria.

"ISIS's loss of territory (in Syria) has put increased pressure on its leadership, who have fewer places to hide, according to media reports," the report says. "As a result, more high profile ISIS members have been captured or killed in recent months, although the senior-most members of the group have continued to elude death or capture."

In recent days, the number of U.S. troops in Syria has spiked to around 3,000 as more troops have moved in to help with the withdrawal, according to defense officials. Logistical support and security forces are in the country to help move equipment and eventually troops out.

The U.S. military remains under orders for a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops in 120 days, ending the U.S. presence there in mid-spring. Roughly 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq. In an interview that aired Sunday, Trump said it was vital to keep a military presence in the country to monitor Iran.

Iraqi President Barham Salih pushed back against the president Monday. "Those forces do not have the right to monitor many things, including watching Iran," Salih said. "We will not allow this."

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