The Islamic State group is continuing to lose ground across Iraq and Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday, to almost half of what it once held in Iraq. The previous estimate by the Defence Department was that the losses amounted to around 40 percent of the area held in Iraq and about 10 percent of the land they held in Syria.
Those tallies had gone up in recent weeks, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “The number right now in Iraq is about 45 percent of the territory they once held has been recovered,” Cook said. “The number in Syria is anywhere between 16 to 20 percent.”
ISIS jihadists had overtaken large swathes of Iraq and Syria in early 2014. Since August 2014, the United States has led an international coalition fighting back against the ISIS group, using a combination of air strikes, training local partners and helping with surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance.
There are around 4000 American troops in Iraq to advise and train the Iraqi army in its fight against terror. Three warships with 4,500 personnel have also been deployed in the Persian Gulf.
The Pentagon says it has killed about 26,000 ISIS fighters altogether, cut into the group’s cash flow, and driven the terrorists out of 40 percent of the land the organization once controlled.
U.S. special operations forces have used raids and airstrikes to target the ISIS’s cabinet, assassinating the group’s finance minister, war minister, and other top officials. U.S. airpower has been pounding ISIS in Iraq and Syria, dropping more than 11,000 bombs from November through February. Much of those attacks targeted the oil fields and buildings believed to store ISIS’s cash.
The losses of oil fields and territory have taken a toll on ISIS. Last year, ISIS was raking in some $80 million a month from oil smuggling, antiquities sales, and taxes. That revenue has now been cut by about 30 percent, U.S. intelligence sources say. ISIS is reportedly paying its fighters half what they once made and rationing medical supplies.
The population living under ISIS’s brutal reign has dropped from 9 million to 6 million people and there are reports that ISIS fighters are retreating wherever they’re attacked, rather than fighting as fiercely as they once did.
“We have momentum,” President Obama said, “and we intend to keep that momentum.”
The Obama administration announced a cyberwar against ISIS to disrupt ISIS’s social media recruitment, block its cash transfers, and even pose as ISIS leaders and issue bogus commands. It also intends to send more troops and arms, including American-operated Apache attack helicopters, to help Iraqi forces retake Mosul, ISIS’s Iraqi headquarters, later this year.
In the past few months, Iraqi forces backed by American airstrikes have liberated the city of Ramadi, and Heet, while several northern towns have also been retaken.
The loss of Palmyra was another major strategic loss for the IS. Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city and UNESCO World Heritage site was recaptured in March this year from the IS with combined Russian air strikes and Syrian ground force attacks.
Senior military leaders say that the war effort must now focus on isolating – and then liberating – the Islamic State-held cities of Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria.
Even as it continues to lose ground, the ISIS is making a fresh bid to regain its losses. Militants launched a surprise attack on Syrian army headquarters near Palmyra and seized control over 2 hills that overlook the city. Syrian troops were forced into withdrawal.
In Iraq, they captured the village of al-Kanunah, north of Mosul in Nineveh Province near Mount bin Ali. They also seized the Shaer gas field, the largest one in the province of Homs and managed to cut off the supply route between Homs and Palmyra. In desperation, they also resorted to suicide attacks in Baghdad which killed around 100 people.
ISIS remains the best-funded militant group in the world. Its leaders continue to sell oil, have piles of cash plundered from Iraqi banks, and heavily tax citizens in the areas of Syria and Iraq.
ISIS affiliates have sprung up in Algeria and Sudan and as far away as Pakistan and the Philippines. The group is now focusing on taking over oil fields in Libya.
At the same time, ISIS’s sophisticated propaganda arm continues to use the net to recruit new members.