BAGHDAD (AP) — High-ranking Iraqi security officials say up to 7,000 Islamic State group affiliates remain in Iraq after the fall of Mosul, where the group’s leader declared the self-styled caliphate three years ago.
Three intelligence and defense officials also told The Associated Press there are an estimated 4,000 militants and 3,000 supporters who were employed by the group and received salaries.
In Syria, there are up to another 7,000 IS militants and 5,000 supporters, they say.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
On July 10, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the liberation of Mosul, after nine months of highly destructive warfare. IS swept into Mosul in summer 2014 when it conquered much of northern and western Iraq. The extremists declared a caliphate and governed according to a harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law. The militants rounded up their opponents and killed them en masse, often documenting the massacres with video and photos.
Two days after the declaration of Mosul liberation, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, cautioned that the battle in Iraq is not over. He said he believes Iraqi troops still need time to oust remaining IS fighters from Mosul. Once that is done, he said, they will probably take a break to regroup before launching their fight against the IS in Tal Afar and other remaining insurgent strongholds in western Iraq. IS still controls territories in parts of Ninawa and Anbar governorates, in Hawija in Kirkuk governorate and in pockets elsewhere.
Last week, Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, warned that the world still faces threats from IS militants despite their territorial losses. He said the Islamic State group controls less territory, but officials still worry that a small number of skilled fighters could move out of the region and launch attacks in the…