ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) arrested 20 suspects in raids against Islamic State sleeper cells in the restive Deir al-Zor province, an SDF official said on Wednesday.
According to Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF’s media center, the Syrian Kurdish forces arrested the 20 Islamic State members in an operation in the village of as-Shuhail, located in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV).
“A large quantity of armament” was also captured “and two tunnels were found,” Bali said in a post on his Twitter account.
Sleeper cell attacks continue to pose a threat in Syria’s northeast, especially in Deir al-Zor, despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State at the hands of the SDF on March 23, 2019.
In an earlier statement, Bali underlined that the SDF is now focused on the enduring defeat of the so-called Islamic State, including the “elimination of sleeper cells and uprooting its ideology in northern Syria and Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan].”
Redur Xelil, the SDF’s head of foreign relations, told Kurdistan 24 in March, that the terror group’s sleeper cells continue to pose a threat.
“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “It’s necessary to conduct military and security operations in the regions of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor, the border of Iraq and Syria, where ISIS organized itself; this is a big threat for Rojava and northeastern Syria.”
Senior officials such as Xelil have called for continued support by the US-led coalition to fight sleeper cells and to prevent the resurgence of the terrorist group.
Col. James Scott Rawlinson, Director of Public Affairs and Spokesperson for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday that the US-led coalition will continue to train internal security forces in Syria, to “enable their offensive operations in order to continue pressuring remnants of Da’esh [Arab acronym for ISIS].”
The spokesperson confirmed that the Islamic State remains a threat in both Iraq and Syria and that operations were recently carried out in Syria to clear territory once controlled by Da’esh and continue to degrade its ability to resurge.
The official said that since the end of the terror group’s physical caliphate, the SDF “efforts focused on clearing villages from Busayrah to Baghouz.”
He added that in Hajin, current estimates indicate that over 100,000 residents have already returned and nearly 2,000 IEDs have been cleared, with thousands more awaiting destruction.
According to a recent report by a Pentagon Watchdog, the threat of Islamic State private networks and sleeper cells within Syria remains.
The US-led coalition stated that although the Islamic State’s capability has significantly reduced from a year ago, sleeper cells continue to carry out attacks and work to rebuild networks and capabilities.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany