10 Years of Syrian War – ISIS Exploiting Covid-19 to Restore Activities

New International Coalition to Fight Extremism Urgently Needed

Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of alleged Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in the Syrian northeastern al-Hasakeh governorate on December 10, 2020. (Getty)
Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of alleged Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in the Syrian northeastern al-Hasakeh governorate on December 10, 2020. (Getty)

10 Years of Syrian War – ISIS Exploiting Covid-19 to Restore Activities

As 10 years have passed since the start of the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, or Da’esh, is making use of the COVID-19 pandemic to restore its activities and claw itself back into key areas.

ISIS still uses the Syrian Desert as a safe haven and is arranging hideouts from which to carry out terrorist operations. It is still moving between the Iraqi-Syrian borders, despite the efforts made by Iraqi and coalition forces.

ISIS is still active in several regions in Iraq – east of Samarra, in the Hamrin Basin, south of Kirkuk, in Wadi Al-Shay, and in the Anbar desert at Wadi Houran.

The challenges facing the Iraqi government were mostly in the wake of US withdrawals from Iraq as well as the withdrawal of some coalition forces from Iraq, most notably the German and French soldiers.  These troop drawdowns encouraged ISIS to return thereby taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though ISIS may be currently unable to mount sophisticated attacks or operations outside of Iraq and Syria, data show that it is expanding its presence in both countries.

ISIS continues to press forward with online recruitment and remains well-funded, with reserves estimated at between $50 million and $300 million.

A recent U.N. assessment estimates ISIS manpower to be more than 10,000 fighters while the Pentagon Inspector General estimates that the numbers are anywhere from 14,000-18,000.


The Islamic State is a transnational Islamist insurgent and a terrorist group that controlled large areas of Iraq and Syria from 2014 through 2017.

As a reaction, the U.S. announced in 2014 the formation of a broad international coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)., The coalition comprises more than 80 states and organizations and was established to militarily eliminate ISIS.

The coalition managed to make gains against ISIS in key areas. However, on October 16, 2019, President Trump ordered a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, a decision that effectively ceded control of the area to the Syrian government and Russia, which allowed a resurgence of the Islamic state.

The withdrawal has been described as a “major victory” for Trump’s national security team. Britain has agreed to deploy additional special forces in Syria alongside French commandos to allow the US to withdraw its ground troops from the ongoing fight against the remaining ISIS forces in the country.

US officials indicated that Britain and France would contribute 10% to 15% more elite soldiers, although the exact numbers involved remain secret. At the time, about 2,000 to 2,500 US troops were in the country. Trump then partially reversed the decision in February, which meant that about 400 soldiers would remain as a peacekeeping force for an indeterminate period.

Although the coalition has made strides in its fight against ISIS, there are wider challenges regarding combating extremism and terrorism in the region.

Critically required is support for reconstructing what ISIS destroyed, rebuilding the infrastructure, and implementing policies and measures in order to fight terrorism.

This means that a new international or regional coalition is urgently needed to fight extremism and terrorism, especially since experience has revealed that no country is safe from terrorism.

The conditions that sparked ISIS’ massive growth in 2014 are unlikely to reoccur, but the coalition should get ahead of the problem while it can. Even a low-level ISIS insurgency in Iraq and Syria will be detrimental to the coalition’s gains and strategic interests in both countries.


In March 2019, with the geographical elimination of ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Forces started to transfer the families of the mercenaries to Al-Hol camp‫.

But ISIS is trying to create new Islamic Caliphate fighters in the camp.

ISIS women still raise the organization's slogans and impose its teachings on the rest of the camp's women. This comes in an attempt to recreate a new generation of ISIS children inside the camp.

The Islamic State is also carrying out smuggling attempts in conjunction with Turkey to get some ISIS families out of the camp.

These smuggling attempts are carried out by a smuggling network which requires the payment of funds amounting to more than 5,000 dollars per person.

The military operations by Turkey are considered as an invasion of Syrian territories. They are contrary to the Security Council resolutions on the transfer of foreign fighters as well as the movement of funds.

ISIS is also extending support to their followers in Al-Hol camp by sending money and remittances at a rate of $500 per month that are used in smuggling and terrorist operations.

This has left foreign fighters and ISIS families in camps in northern Syria and possibly in Iraq which is an indication that they may be exploited by some of the extremist organizations and recycled or transferred to other conflict areas in order to spread extremism and terrorism.

There are also members of ISIS who managed to escape from the camps in Syria and return to Europe illegally, which complicates the problem. Therefore, it became necessary for European and other countries to repatriate their citizens and assume legal and moral responsibility.


The curriculum of the “ISIS schools” in Al-Hol camp is preparing a future terrorist generation of ISIS women.

Investigations carried out by some TV channels from inside Al-Hol camp during 2020 and 2021 showed that ISIS children were vowing revenge.

ISIS fighters feel that the ISIS has "let them down" and now are disappointed and frustrated with the lack of diligence in taking them back from their “homelands,” and this means a disposition towards violent extremism in no small way.

A Security Council report released in early February 2021 confirmed the existence of ISIS's intentions during 2021 to expand its capacity to plan escapes and enlarge the network which has been assisting fugitives since August 2020. 

The report of the Security Council clearly warned that the internal displacement camps and detention facilities in the main area of ISIS, especially in northeastern Syria (Al-Hol camp), which are guarded by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), represent an underlying threat, and that the camp is considered the last remnant of the "caliphate."

The number of camp guards decreased from 1,500 in mid-2019 to 400 in late 2020. Al-Hol camp still contains about 65,000 people, a population much greater than its intended capacity, with 10,000 foreign women and children in an annex to the camp. It is said that some minors are indoctrinated and prepared as future agents of ISIS.


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