US-led coalition accuses Assad regime of letting ISIS militants lurk in Syria
The US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq accused president Bashar al-Assad’s regime of allowing ISIS militants to lurk in areas under its control "without being punished."
Major General Felix Gedney said in a press conference on Wednesday that the free movement of ISIS fighters can be interpreted in two ways either that the Syrian regime does not want to fight the organization or that it is unable to defeat it within its borders.
He added that many of ISIS fighters who were expelled from al-Raqqa, one of their most important strongholds in eastern Syria, had moved to the west and reorganized their ranks into smaller cells so they could escape surveillance more easily.
On Wednesday, the coalition announced that only a few thousands of ISIS fighters, around a third of their estimated number from three weeks ago, remained in Iraq and Syria.
The coalition statement said: "Because of the commitment of the coalition and the efficiency demonstrated by our partners in Iraq and Syria, it is estimated that there are less than a thousand terrorists in areas of joint operations being pursued in the desert areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq.”
This figure does not include areas in western Syria under the control of regime forces. The US-led coalition said on December 5, that fewer than 3,000 fighters were still in Syria and Iraq, while Iraq announced the final victory on the organization on December 9.
Training ISIS militants
Meanwhile, Russia's chief of staff has accused the United States of training former fighters of ISIS in Syria to try to destabilize the country.
General Valery Gerasimov's accusations focused on an interview at a US military base at Al-Tanf Syrian border crossing with Iraq south of the country.
Russia says the US base is "illegal" and its surrounding area have become a "black hole" in which extremists operate "without hindrance."
While the United States asserts that the Al-Tanf base is temporary and used to train partner forces in the war against ISIS.
Similar Russian accusations have been refuted in the past and Washington remains committed to eliminating members of the organization and denying them safe havens.
However, Gerasimov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on Wednesday that the United States had trained fighters who had previously been members of ISIS, but now call themselves the "new Syrian army" or use other names.
He added that Russian satellites and drones have spotted extremist groups at the US base.