More ISIS attacks likely as group suffers setbacks in Iraq and Syria: US general

One of the Jakarta attackers wielding a weapon on a street on Jan 14.
One of the Jakarta attackers wielding a weapon on a street on Jan 14.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will likely increase the tempo of attacks around the world as they come under increased pressure in Iraq and Syria, a top US general warned on Thursday (Jan 14).

General Lloyd Austin, who currently heads the military's Central Command (CENTCOM) overseeing Middle East operations, made the argument that recent ISIS-claimed attacks like the ones this week in Istanbul and Jakarta are in fact evidence that the group is faltering.

"ISIL has assumed a defensive posture in Iraq and Syria," he said at a news conference in Florida, referring to ISIS by its other name, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

"We can expect to see it rely increasingly on acts of terrorism such as (what) we saw this week in Baghdad and in Turkey, and most recently in Jakarta," he added.

The militant group, which swept through vast rgions of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015 and captured a string of cities, has seen recent setbacks across its self-proclaimed caliphate, including the loss of the key Iraqi city of Ramadi to US-supported local forces.

A US-led coalition has also been hammering the group's oil infrastructure, including by blowing up hundreds of trucks used to ferry illicit crude oil around Syria, and this week bombed a financial facility in the Iraqi city of Mosul that US officials said held millions of dollars in cash.

Gen Austin, who has headed CENTCOM since March 2013 and will shortly be stepping down, said the ISIS is upping its overseas actions to distract from such losses.

It wants to draw attention away from the growing number of setbacks that it is experiencing, he said.

"It is important to understand that these terrorist acts don't necessarily mean ISIL is getting stronger.

"ISIL by its nature is a terrorist organisation and by conducting these attacks, he is attempting to produce an image of invincibility in the wake of setbacks. So overall, we are making progress," he said.

Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said he will recommend that President Barack Obama nominate General Joseph Votel to replace Austin.

Gen Votel currently heads the Special Operations Command. His nomination would reflect the increased role special operations troops are carrying out in the region as elite US commandos launch raids against ISIS militants.

"General Votel has a wealth of in-depth, politico-military experience - that is working with foreign governments and militaries - and is therefore well-equipped to handle the complex challenges of CENTCOM," Mr Carter said.