The number of “battle-ready” Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadis in Iraq and Syria has plummeted to “its lowest point” ever, dropping by more than half from up to 25,000 earlier this year to between 12,000 and 15,000 now, according to the White House.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS who believes the latest estimate of the jihadist group’s strength “is ballpark close enough,” told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the terrorist organization is “still capable of fiercely defending the ground they have taken.”
“They still have the ability to motivate, self-radicalize followers, and they still have the ability to plot and cast into motion attacks on the West and that’s of great concern to us,” he added.
There are various estimates for the strength of ISIS’s manpower. For the purpose of this report, Breitbart News will compare figures disseminated by the White House.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, citing an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community, told reporters in February that the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria had dropped by about 20 percent to 25,000, from a previous estimate of 31,500, due to battlefield fatalities and desertions.
On Tuesday, Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, told White House reporters the number of ISIS fighters has sunk to a new low — as few as 12,000.
The number of battle-ready fighters inside Iraq and Syria is now at its lowest point that it’s ever been. We estimate about 12,000 to 15,000. And ISIL is unable to replenish its ranks.
Whereas we used to see about a thousand foreign fighters in the 2014 time frame flowing into Syria… an unprecedented number of these foreign fighters, these jihadi fighters coming from all around the world, almost 40,000 — it’s now down to really what is quite a negligible amount, in our estimation.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper estimated in February that 36,500 foreign fighters alone from more than 100 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria, including approximately 6,600 from Western nations.
In April, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign against the ISIS, told reporters that the number of 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.
He attributed the decline to U.S.-led coalition airstrikes that have targeted the jihadist group’s infrastructure.
Some analysts, including Thomas Joscelyn from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), have estimated that the size of the Islamic State, also known as IS, reached 50,000 at its peak.
“I’ve heard figures, 30,000, 50,000. I don’t know what the peak number was and, again, kind of hard to define that because I’m not sure people who throw… those numbers around are defining [the fighters] in the same way,” pointed out Gen. Townsend.
“Many in the U.S. military and intelligence communities have urged caution when citing such numbers, explaining the strategies that made IS effective rarely relied on brute force,” reports Voice of America (VOA).
Although ISIS has lost an estimated 61 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, the terrorist group still controls “huge swaths” of land, a U.S. official told VOA on condition of anonymity.
“I doubt all estimates of ISIS’s manpower,” the FDD’s Joscelyn told VOA. “The estimates have been quite clearly wrong going back to 2014 and even before. I have no reason to think the estimates are any better now.”