The number foreign fighters traveling to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria has dropped by 90 percent, from nearly 2,000 per month to 200 within the past year, according to the Pentagon.
During a press briefing Tuesday, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign against the ISIS, attributed the decline to airstrikes that have targeted the jihadist group’s infrastructure.
“When I first got here, we were seeing somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters entering the fight [per month]. Now that we’ve been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to around 200,” Maj. Gersten told reporters. “And we’re actually seeing an increase in now the desertion rates in these fighters. We’re seeing a fracture in their morale. We’re seeing their inability to pay.”
“We’re seeing the inability to fight. We’re watching them try to leave Daesh [ISIS]. In every single way, their morale is being broken,” he continued. “In every single way, their capability to wage war is broken. In every single way, we will continue to take this fight and eradicate this cancer.”
The Pentagon’s assessment is consistent with other estimates that have been released recently.
According to an article published last week by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, NY, in its journal, the CTC Sentinel, ISIS is facing financial troubles.
Documents highlighted in the article show that ISIS is having difficulty paying its fighters and workers while providing basic amenities such as fuel and electricity.
Many jihadists are only receiving half pay and some have not received a salary in months, recent defectors from ISIS have indicated.
“Foreign fighters within the Islamic State have traditionally received better treatment than their local and conscripted counterparts,” notes the Washington Post.
In February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper estimated that nearly 36,500 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria, including approximately 6,600 from Western nations.
Patrick Skinner, director of special projects at the Soufan Group, told the Post that Maj. Gersten’s estimate regarding the dramatic drop in the flow of foreign fighters is “probably accurate.”
“Foreign fighter flows are a seriously lagging indicator and the pressure has been on the group and the crossings for a while,” said Skinner. It “would take time to trickle down into reduced motivation to go… ISIS has bandwagon appeal and fewer jump on the losing bandwagon.”
Senior U.S. military officials have been accused by their subordinates of altering intelligence assessments to make it appear that President Barack Obama is winning the war against ISIS.
Moreover, in December 2015, the Pentagon showcased what appeared to be a forged document to insist that ISIS was in a “desperation” mode and “beginning to feel the pressure” of the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts against the terrorist group.
On Monday, President Obama indicated that the U.S. is stepping up its engagement against ISIS, announcing that he would deploy an additional 250 Special Operations troops to Syria.
“The forces will bolster local ground forces fighting the Islamic State. The Pentagon has also announced a number of recent measures that will expand the U.S.-led campaign and help local allies in the fight against the extremist group,” reports the Post. “This includes the additional deployment of rocket artillery around the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul and into Turkey to provide fire support to forces fighting in Syria.”