ISIS, the terror group that also calls itself the Islamic State, “can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria,” according to a CIA spokesman, CNN reported today.
U.S. officials previously estimated ISIS had only as many as 10,000 fighters.
The new assessment is based on a review of intelligence reports from May to August. The CIA estimates that 2,000 of those fighters are from Western nations.
More than 15,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria, a CIA source told CNN. The fighters come from more than 80 countries, the source said.
“This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate,” CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz said.
It is unclear how the ISIS ranks swelled, and whether the increased numbers include recruits from within Iraq.
It is also not immediately clear whether these new estimated numbers reflected primarily ISIS fighters or were dispersed among a number of groups fighting the Syrian government.
The revised figures come a day after President Obama outlined his plans to “dismantle and ultimately destroy” ISIS.
On Wednesday, Obama laid out plans to go after Islamic State militants with sustained airstrikes and associated military actions designed to neutralize the terror group.
He insisted that despite ISIS declaring a caliphate, controlling large areas in Iraq and Syria and calling itself Islamic State, it is neither Islamic nor a legitimate state.
Details about the vastly increased number of fighters followed news that the United States has begun surveillance flights over Syria as part of an effort at intelligence-gathering related to where and when to launch airstrikes against ISIS.
The Pentagon is refining its targets based on improved intelligence-gathering, including the surveillance flights now under way over Syria, a Defense official said.
The United States “will take action at a time and place” of its choosing, another official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Pentagon spokesman said that one way to attack ISIS is to go after its leadership, something the United States has not done to this point.
“One of the ways you get at and you destroy the capabilities of an enemy like (ISIS) is to be pretty aggressive against them, and that does include disrupting their ability to command and control and to lead their own forces,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the spokesman.
The U.S. military is flying about 60 surveillance and reconnaissance flights per day over Iraq. Those flights have “developed over time a tremendous clarity of the intelligence picture within Iraq,” said a US official.