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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

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."

Facebook to lift political ad ban imposed after November election

Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook will finally allow advertisers to resume running political and social issue ads in the U.S. on Thursday, according to a company update.

The big picture: Facebook and rival Google instituted political ad bans to slow the spread of misinformation and curb confusion around the presidential election and its aftermath.

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