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Defeating ISIS
ISIS Lost 22% of Territory Since Start of 2015

Some rare good news out of the Middle East: ISIS’ “caliphate” is shrinking. IHS Jane’s 360 reports:

The tide of the war is turning against the Islamic State. Between 1 Jan and 15 December 2015, the Islamic State lost control of 14 per cent of its territory. New analysis indicates that in the last 3 months, the Islamic State has lost a further 8 per cent of its territory.

In 2016, we have seen major losses in the north-east extend south towards Raqqa and Deir al-Zour as the mixed-sectarian Kurdish and Sunni Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advance under the cover of US and Russian airstrikes. The Syrian government has also made gains in the West, now stands just 5km outside the ancient city of Palmyra, which was overrun by the jihadists in mid-2015.

Jane’s notes that ISIS’ last major territorial gains were in last June, when it took Palmyra, and even that came at the price of heavy losses elsewhere in Syria. The slow, grinding war of attrition is working, at least for now. Related:

America is killing Isis leaders at such a rate that US airstrikes are taking out replacement commanders almost as soon as they have been appointed.

In one case, US intelligence has been so accurate that targeted bombings have killed three Isis leaders rotating into the same command position. “There’s been cases where we’ve gone three deep in a position,” Colonel Steve Warren, chief US military spokesman in Baghdad, has revealed.[..]

However, some successful hits by the US, either by armed drones or strike aircraft, have caused a major setback for Isis. None more so than the claimed killing of Omar “The Chechen” al-Shishani, the terrorist who held the post of Isis war minister.

This is good news, and the Pentagon and the Administration should be praised. Despite some exceedingly grim news out of Syria these days, there are still some good people fighting the good fight.

That being said, there’s also signs that American attacks on ISIS, already very low by the standards of historical air campaigns, have dropped off:

U.S.-led forces dropped 2,054 munitions last month, down from 2,694 in January and 3,139 in December, according to Air Force data. That’s the fewest since 1,683 last June and reflects a continuing decline from a peak of 3,227 weapons dropped in November. A partial cease-fire went into effect in Syria on Feb. 27, but that agreement doesn’t cover attacks on IS targets.

One wonders what a more concerted attack would do. It’s worth noting too that many of the groups taking back the territory are not U.S.-friendly. And the proximate cause of Sunni radical jihadism in Syria, the Assad regime, looks more entrenched then ever.

So while the news is good overall, what we have is no dash to victory, but a long-hard slog. It’s a manageable grind, but ISIS is likely to be there for Obama’s successor, when she or he is sworn in—as too will the larger chaos unleashed by the Sunni-Shi’a conflict raging across the Middle East.

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  • jeburke

    One should remember that giving up territory can be a sign of smart military strategy and tactics. Was the territory reliquished important to ISIS for some reason? By pulling back, did ISIS strengthen its defenses? Did it relieve ISIS of occupation burdens and responsibility for civilian populations it doesn’t really care about? These are some of the questions one should answer before celebrating.

  • Pait

    If the attacks are effective, I don’t see what “very low by historical standards” could conceivably mean.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Since most of the terrain that ISIS occupies is essentially empty desert, this couldn’t possibly be more meaningless. When you have a few scattered villages here and there, losing control (and we really don’t have much definition of what that means…but that is another matter) of a hamlet of two can make it look like far more territory has changed hands than actually has.

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