Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan said on Thursday that tens of thousands of ISIS terrorists spread worldwide, more than al-Qaeda ever accounted for at its prime.
He also told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the CIA is very concerned about the growth of Libya as a base of operations for ISIS, saying there are 5,000-8,000 fighters belonging to the terrorist group there, although the numbers of its militants spread in Iraq and Syria has been reduced to 18,000 to 22,000 from 19,000 to 25,000.
In one of ISIS’ inflicted monstrosities, Tens of thousands of civilians are left stranded inside the terrorist-held Fallujah and are at risk of disease outbreaks as Iraqi government forces press their assault to retake the city, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday.
ISIS tightened control over civilian movement in central Fallujah, where an estimated 40,000 people are stuck with little water or food, as commandos from an elite counter-terrorism force approach the city’s main government building more than three weeks after the offensive began.
The terrorists, who are believed to have lost almost half of the northern and western territory they seized when Iraqi forces partially collapsed in 2014, have used residents as human shields to slow the military’s advance and foil any hopes of an international air campaign backing them.
Fallujah, an hour’s drive west of Baghdad, is seen as a launchpad for ISIS bombings in the capital, making the offensive a crucial part of the government’s campaign to improve security, although U.S. allies would rather concentrate on IS-held Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city in the far north.
Children inside Fallujah have not received immunizations since the militants took control in 2014, Ala Alwan, WHO’s regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, said during a visit to Iraq.
“The low level of immunity coupled with poor hygiene conditions raises the risk of disease outbreaks, such as measles,” he said in a statement, and hundreds of pregnant women were also in urgent need of reproductive health services.
Aid groups providing food, water and other supplies to escapees lack access to the city itself. Fallujah was besieged by government forces for around six months before the current advance began, prompting the United Nations and rights groups to warn of an imminent humanitarian crisis.
The number of people displaced from Fallujah has reached 53,000, according to U.N. statistics. Alwan said they also struggled to access health services due to “inadequate levels of funding for the health sector”.