The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has lost 50,000 jihadis at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria over the last two years, Fox News has learned from an unnamed American military official.
Fox News reports:
The official made the remarks for the first time and called the figures a conservative estimate, but said it was more than what others have stated before.
U.S. leaders have expressed reluctance to disclose specific numbers, and noting that ISIS had been able to replace fighters rapidly, particularly early on.
“I give them credit for being so resilient,” noted the official, referring to the terrorist group that has reaped havoc on the population in Iraq and Syria since it seized swathes of territory in the two neighboring countries back in 2014.
Echoing other U.S. military officials and analysts, the official warned that the U.S.-led coalition has killed so many ISIS jihadis that the terrorist group may go underground and transform into something he identified as “AQI 2.0,” referring to another version Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Other U.S. military officials and analysts have acknowledged that the coalition’s primary focus on ISIS in Iraq and Syria has helped its rival al-Qaeda gain strength.
In July, Jabhat al-Nusra declared it was no longer affiliated with al-Qaeda after rebranding itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or JFS (Front for the Conquest of the Levant).
However, “Most Western analysts dismiss JFS’s break with al-Qaida as a feint, seeing it as a long game the jihadist group has been playing for some time across the Middle East and Africa,” reported Voice of America (VOA) in September.
VOA pointed out that the JFS has benefited from its rival ISIS’ recent loss of fighters, courtesy of the U.S.-led coalition.
JFS is reportedly looking to establish its own so-called caliphate in the territory it controls in Syria.
Beyond Iraq and Syria, the Sunni al-Qaeda terrorist group has capitalized on the security turmoil and the focus of U.S.-backed military efforts against its rivals in other parts of the world.
The U.S. Department of State reported earlier this year that the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has expanded its reach in Yemen to unprecedented levels and quadrupled its manpower to 4,000 jihadis last year.
A U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been primarily fighting against the Iran-allied Shiite Houthi rebels, an al-Qaeda rival, allowing the Sunni terrorist group to expand its reach and increase the number of fighters under its command.
While ISIS has lost fighters in Iraq and Syria, the group continues to expand in other countries.
Official branches of the group have seized territory in Libya and Afghanistan.
Citing a leaked document prepared for the White House by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), NBC News reported in August that ISIS has “fully operational branches” in at least 18 countries, more than double the seven nations where U.S. State Department documents revealed the group had officially established a presence in 2014.
The NCTC document also pointed out the existence of “aspiring branches” linked to ISIS in six countries: Egypt, Indonesia, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia and Bangladesh.
ISIS responded to its loss of terrain and to the potential loss of Mosul [in and Raqqa by rejuvenating attack zones throughout Iraq, notably in Baghdad, Hilla, and Samarra. On December 8, 2016, ISIS also launched an offensive in Eastern Homs [in Syria]. ISIS also conducted attacks in new locations including Bab al-Hawa, Syria and Darbandikhan, Iraq on December 3, 2016 and December 4, 2016 respectively, demonstrating that ISIS is still expanding its freedom of action in Iraq and Syria.
As of December 2, the U.S.-led coalition had carried out a total of 16,592 strikes (10,590 Iraq / 6,002 Syria), according to the Pentagon.
Of those, the U.S. has conducted 12,876 strikes in Iraq and Syria (7,183 Iraq / 5,693 Syria) at a cost of about $10 billion to American taxpayers.
The Pentagon notes, “As of October 15, 2016, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on August 8, 2014, is $10 billion and the average daily cost is $12.6 million for 800 days of operations.”