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The Syrian flag flies in a neighborhood near Damascus previously held by ISIS. Photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

There are believed to be around 30,000 ISIS fighters across Iraq and Syria, according to two new reports from the Pentagon and the U.N., far higher than previous estimates.

Between the lines: Michael Dempsey, former acting director of national intelligence now at CFR, writes for Axios that ISIS is focused "on keeping a toehold in Iraq and Syria and embedding its supporters into local populations."

The details

The U.S. Lead Inspector General report cites a Pentagon estimate of "15,500 to 17,100 ISIS fighters" in Iraq, and around 14,000 in Syria.

  • There has been "an overall decrease in violence" in Iraq, per the report, but ISIS fighters are still present, acting in "small cells" and continuing to plant explosives, carry out kidnappings and "mount terrorist attacks."
  • One key note from the report: ISIS surged in Syria when Kurdish YPG forces re-focused their attention on Afrin.

The UN Security Council report estimates ISIS membership in Iraq and Syria "to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals, roughly distributed between the two countries."

  • "Despite the damage to bureaucratic structures of the so-called 'caliphate,' the collective discipline of ISIL is intact," the report states. "The general security and finance bureaus of ISIL are intact."
  • The U.N. report finds that travel by foreign fighters to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria "has essentially come to a halt," but the flow of fighters returning home is "slower than expected."
The bottom line

Peter Mandaville of the Brookings Institution tells Axios that while the numbers seem about right, the amount of ISIS fighters is not what matters most moving forward. What matters is "whether we are seeing progress in changing the conditions on the ground... that produced a conducive environment for ISIS to thrive. Unless and until we do this, significant ISIS resurgence remains a very real risk."

Go deeper: Thousands of women and children are returning from ISIS

Go deeper

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

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