Jihadists' Syria capability intact says U.S. watchdog
An inspector general from the Department of Defence also said that a possible departure of American troops from Iraq would likely lead to a resurgence of the jihadists.
Baghdadi, 48, led IS from 2014 and was the world's most wanted man, heading a self-declared "caliphate" that once spanned parts of Iraq and Syria. It collapsed last March after years of battle with coalition-backed forces. IS then went underground and reverted to well-honed guerrilla tactics that continued to do damage.
Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. special forces raid in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib in late October, and the group named his replacement as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, about whom little was known.
In its report, the inspector general said Baghdadi's death did not affect the jihadists.
Kobani, a city reborn after 'Islamic State' expulsion
Remember Kobani? Kurdish fighters freed the besieged Syrian city from "Islamic State" militants in a battle closely followed by international media in 2014. The town is slowly being rebuilt, but the drama remains. By Karlos Zurutuza
A symbol of resistance: the siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani was launched on 15 September 2014, by "Islamic State" militants. The offensive prompted a mass exodus from the town and surrounding countryside towards Turkey, though many stayed to fight the enemy. The sculpture at the entrance of the city pays homage to Arin Mirkan, a woman who ran towards an IS position and blew herself up with a hand grenade
Kobanigrad: U.S.-led airstrikes helped Kurdish forces on the ground until Kobani was officially liberated on 26 January. However, 70 percent of the once-bustling city on the Turkey-Syria border was nicknamed the "Kurdish Stalingrad," or "Kobanigrad." Officials claim that 50 percent of the damaged areas have been reconstructed
Rebuilding from scratch: despite promises from the international community to rebuild the city, local officials reveal that funds come either from the Kurdish diaspora or private donations. While Kobani's administration covers the cost of basic infrastructure such as roads and sewage, local residents have to pay an average $20,000 (€17,000) to rebuild their houses
A bustling bazaar: the city's bazaar is once again a focal point for visitors and residents. Goods, however, are not as readily available as locals would like due to the embargo enforced by both Ankara and Irbil over Kurdish-controlled Syria. Such political grievances also lead to a lack of basic construction materials, which is a major obstacle for the reconstruction process
'Health is life': since the first hospital was re-opened by the Kurdish Red Crescent in 2016, two others have been added to the list. Special medical equipment has been sent by UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, but there's a growing need for medicines as the hospitals also cater to injured people brought daily from Raqqa, where fighting between the Kurdish-led force and "Islamic State" continues
In memoriam: the city is littered with pictures showing the portraits of those men and women who died during the siege of Kobani or on other fronts. That of Abdullah Ocalan, co-founder and imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, is also a recurrent image in murals, banners and even uniform patches among the ranks of the Kurdish militia YPG
The war is far from over: although security has improved dramatically over the last three years, many still join the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S. backed multi-ethnic force which is fighting "Islamic State" in its last Syrian strongholds. "I was too young to fight in 2014 but, at 18, I can no longer skip my obligations," says soldier Heval Sipan
My ruin, my house: many of those who cannot afford to pay for their houses to be rebuilt still struggle to survive in the rubble, with neither running water nor electricity. Three years after the siege, much of the debris has yet to be removed
Dreaming of rubble: there are also those who cannot even return to the rubble of their former houses and remain stranded in this refugee camp outside Kobani, which hosts 50 families. "I'd be more than happy if I could just get the money to rebuild a room for my family," admits Idris Sheikh, a father of ten
Citing information from U.S. Central Command (Centcom), which is responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle East, the inspector general said IS "remained cohesive, with an intact command and control structure, urban clandestine networks, and an insurgent presence in much of rural Syria."
Both Centcom and the Defence Intelligence Agency concluded that Baghdadi's death "did not result in any immediate degradation to ISIS's capabilities," the report said, using another acronym for IS.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran boiled over onto Iraqi soil last month, raising fears of war that have since eased. The U.S. killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, and Tehran retaliated against an Iraqi base hosting American soldiers, dozens of whom were hurt.
In Iraq, U.S. forces suspended their operations against IS after the killing of Soleimani in order to focus on protecting the roughly 5,200 American personnel in Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition has provided training and air support for Iraqi forces since 2014 to help them beat IS, but the pause meant it could not carry out operations or strikes.
Iraq's parliament voted for U.S. troops to leave the country, but Washington refused and Iraqi forces resumed anti-jihadist operations with the U.S.-led coalition at the end of January.
"It is unclear whether U.S. forces will be able to remain in Iraq or the scope of their operations," the inspector general said, adding "without a U.S. troop presence in Iraq, ISIS would likely resurge" in the country. (AFP)