In March of this year, Donald Trump declared that the terrorist group ISIS was defeated, after U.S.-backed forces drove ISIS fighters from what was believed to be their final stronghold, the city of Baghouz, Syria, as NBC News reported.
The announcement of "victory" over ISIS came three months after Trump announced that he would order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria, though he later said that some troops would remain, according to The Washington Post.
But this week, a chilling new report by a top military think tank in Washington, D.C., warns that ISIS was not, in fact, defeated — and instead is now ready to stage a "devastating" second wave of insurgency, seizing new territory in Iraq and Syria.
According to the report issued by The Institute for the Study of War, accessible online via Understanding War, the "slow-motion reduction" of the ISIS so-called "caliphate" started by the Obama administration and continued by Trump, "gave the group plenty of time to plan and prepare for the next phase of the war."
As the U.S. directs its attention elsewhere, ISIS has already begin to reclaim territory in Iraq, according to a summary of the report by The New Zealand Herald. ISIS "sleeper cells" have been wiping out local leaders Iraqi towns and villages who collaborated with the anti-ISIS, U.S.-backed forces, and have reestablished "de facto" control of "small pockets" of Iraqi territory — even imposing new taxes on the local population, the report says.
Despite the Trump administration's boasts of victory over ISIS, the terror group was never actually defeated, but instead "deliberately" pulled back its forces and "relocated many of its fighters and their families," according to an executive summary of the report posted by the ISW.
In addition, ISIS remains flush with cash, according to a report on the ISW findings by the Australian site News.com.au.
Speaking to the military and intelligence site The Cipher Brief last December, ISW founder Kimberly Kagan blasted Trump's announced pullout of U.S. troops from Syria, warning that "this is exactly how we got to 9/11." Trump's decision to withdraw forces came just as ISIS was reviving its military organization, Kagan said.
According to ISW researcher Jennifer Cafarella, writing on her Twitter account, the think tank's "warning that ISIS is likely capable of seizing a major urban center is perhaps the most alarming conclusion" in the report.
The ISW predicts that "ISIS will conduct urban raids in the next year," Cafarella wrote on Twitter.