ISIS has lost approximately 65 percent of its territory and about half of its fighting force throughout Iraq and Syria, a U.S. defense official said today.
“We believe we’ve killed half of the fighters they had at their peak,” the official said. ISIS reached the height of its power in 2014, when President Obama said his administration did not yet have a strategy to counter the terrorist network. The strategy that has since developed has depleted ISIS in terms of manpower and land — but not in cash and resources.
ISIS still maintains weapons and cash reserves, but the official wouldn’t estimate the extent of either. Both will help keep ISIS operable, even as its human resources are in decline.
The assessment from the Pentagon comes as President Donald Trump weighs options Defense Secretary James Mattis is presenting to defeat ISIS fully, and those options could include increasing American forces inside Syria, where the effort is moving much more slowly than it has in Iraq.
In Iraq, the battle to retake Mosul has proved successful, although the fight for West Mosul is ongoing. And throughout Iraq, the U.S. official told reporters that within the next six months, the majority of Iraqi population centers should be freed from ISIS control.
While Syrian Defense Forces are in the process of isolating Raqqa, freeing it from the grip of ISIS is expected to take longer. And yet, the U.S. defense official predicted that because ISIS leaders realize that maintaining control of Raqqa is not tenable, they will continue to slip out of the city as they have begun to do.
The official warned that even though taking back the ISIS capital of Raqqa would be a psychological victory, it won’t be the final battle that will wipe out the terrorist organization and warned that fights will continue into more sparsely populated areas.
Still, the effect of freeing these more densely populated areas is making it more difficult for foreign fighters to sneak into the territory to join the organization, the official said, and the isolation is making ISIS less appealing to join.
As the official explained:
“Some of those attacks are relatively inexpensive to pull off and don’t require large numbers of people or necessarily a lot of resources, and so I think that is a different aspect of our fight against ISIS clearly than the one against their physical caliphate. But by diminishing the appeal of ISIS as an organization, I think we can diminish the number of people who might be inspired by their message.”
And that’s a critical point, because while coalition forces are finding success in reducing ISIS overall, they don’t have a magical solution to end lone wolf attacks that are still popping up, as they have in Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in recent months.