US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that his country is still tracking down small pockets of ISIS fighters in Iraq, while the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced some 15 militants were killed in border areas between Iraq and Syria.
“ISIS no longer controls cities. Its previously large ranks are decimated. Survivors have scattered into the desert. Yet ISIS still has militants with weapons and plans for renewed mayhem,” Mattis said.
"We have repeatedly said the war is not over," he added, stressing that US forces are still tracking down small pockets of ISIS fighters in Iraq.
He confirmed that the US is still working closely with the Iraqi security forces, hoping they can take full control of the country's territory.
"It may be a dozen ISIS guys who finally find each other. They get together and live in the one house. They start licking their wounds and thinking, 'What can we do?' " Mattis said.
"What we want to do is drive this down to a point it can be handled by local authorities, by police and that sort of thing."
In this context, Spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry Brigadier General Saad Maan said that 15 ISIS militants were killed during a security campaign on the Iraqi-Syrian borders.
“Acting upon intelligence reports, Federal Police killed 15 ISIS militants while moving on the border between Iraq and Syria,” Maan said.
“The security operation was launched after tracking down the ISIS cell for a few days,” he said, adding that the troops seized medium arms and explosive belts.
Commenting on the developments, member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi parliament Sheikh Eyad al-Jubouri told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “military part of the battle against ISIS has ended in the sense that this terrorist organization no longer controls any area of Iraqi territories except for some pockets in the form of huts here and there.”
He stressed that these huts are being dealt with either through the Iraqi military effort or through cooperation with the US.
“Iraq is aware that the war with terrorism has several chapters, and the remaining pages should be dealt with through integrated efforts that combine what is intelligence with what is societal,” Jubouri added.
For his part, member of the security committee of the Anbar Provincial Council Na'im al-Ka'oud, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS militants are definitely present in the Anbar desert, whose vast terrain will make it difficult to track down the terrorists.
Ka'oud is one of the sheikhs of the Bu Nimr tribe, which was victim to a mass massacre when ISIS occupied Anbar in 2014.
He added that training, equipping and arming Iraqi forces and local police in the province is necessary to be enable them to pursue and eliminate dormant cells.