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ISIL - Fighting Strength

The Islamic State terror group may be far more resilient, stronger and dangerous than U.S. officials have been willing to let on, boasting a fighting force in Iraq and Syria that comes close to what it fielded at its peak. After four years of bombings, the elimination of key IS leaders, and other U.S. and coalition backed efforts, there are still anywhere from 28,600 to 31,600 IS fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to information given in August 20018 by the Defense Department to the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Pacific EaglePhilippines.

At the groups height in 2015, U.S. intelligence officials estimated the terror group had about 33,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, for a time, bolstering its numbers by bringing in thousands of foreign fighters every month. Yet the new estimates suggested after spending $14.3 billion on more than 24,000 airstrikes, the U.S.-led coalition has managed to achieve only mixed results. While the Islamic States self-declared caliphate that spanned part of Iraq and Syria is no more, the U.S.-led effort has done little to erode ISs overall might.

The inspector generals quarterly report, citing Defense Department figures, shows IS may now be able to boast more than 17,000 fighters in Iraq. Another 13,100 to 14,500 IS fighters are active in Syria, the report said, of which only 4,000 to 6,000 remained in the U.S. militarys areas of operation in northeastern Syria. The rest appear to be operating in areas controlled by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies.

A United Nations report 27 July 2018, based on intelligence from member states, estimated there are between 20,000 and 30,000 [Islamic State] individuals, roughly equally distributed between the two countries. According to the UN report, those numbers include a significant component of the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who flocked to Iraq and Syria to join the self-declared caliphate, warning they are not breaking rank.

By July 2017, un-named Iraqi security officials estimated that ISIL strength in Iraq was abou 4,000 "militants" and another 3,000 "supporters", while ISIL strength in Syria was estiamted at 7,000 militants and 9,000 supporters. The 11,000 militants and 12,000 supporters would represent a combined strength of about 23,000 personnel. Presumably the "militants" were active combatants, though the distinction between militants and supporters was not clarified.

At least 50,000 Islamic State jihadists have been killed by the US-led coalition since it began operations in Iraq and Syria in late 2014, a senior US military official said 08 December 2016. A relentless operation using planes and drones from a dozen or so members of the anti-IS coalition since August 2014 had conducted some 16,000 air strikes against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria -- two-thirds of them in Iraq. In addition, the coalition provided training and weapons to local forces fighting IS.

"I am not into morbid counts but that kind of volume matters, that kind of impact on the enemy," the official said, calling the 50,000 number a conservative estimate. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the air campaign had been the "most pristine" ever in terms of avoiding civilian casualties, with almost all the bombs dropped so far being smart weapons that can be steered to a precise target.

US intelligence estimates of Islamic State force strength in Iraq and Syria during 2014 and 2015 remained practically unchanged from before the strikes began, staying between 20,000 to 30,0000, thanks to a steady influx of foreign fighters. That is, the US claimed to have killed Daash twice over to no apparent net effect. The coalition previously said it "does not use a casualty count as a measure of effectiveness in the campaign to ultimately defeat (IS) in Iraq and Syria". Despite this assertion, such figures are periodically announced.

In 2000 the US State Department reported that Al-Qaida "May have several hundred to several thousand members." And in 2001, the State Department reported that "Al-Qaida may have several thousand members and associates."

As of April 2013, the US Government reported on AQI that "In Iraq, membership is estimated between 1,000 and 2,000, making it the largest Sunni violent extremist group in Iraq. Membership in Syria is unknown, although it is likely that the groups members make up a significant portion of the estimated 26,000 violent extremist fighters in Syria." The Syrian number included both ISEL and al-Nusrah.

While the Pentagon said it was hard to put a number on just how large the ISIL force is, some believed it to have 5,000 to 7,000 fighters. Other analysts said in June 2014 that between Iraq and Syria, there could be as many as 12,000 to 15,000 fighters moving across an area largely under their control, 3,000 of whom were from Western countries.

Six years earlier, the US State Department reported that "The threat from AQI continued to diminish in 2008. AQI, although still dangerous, has experienced the defection of members, lost key mobilization areas, suffered disruption of support infrastructure and funding, and been forced to change targeting priorities. Indeed, the pace of suicide bombing countryside, which we consider one indicator of AQI's operational capability, fell significantly during last year.... Membership is estimated at 2,000-4,000, making it the largest, most potent Sunni extremist group in Iraq."

One source of combatants for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was prison breaks through its Destroying the Walls campaign. In July 2013 almost 2000 inmates escaped from prisons in Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. Hundreds of convicts, including senior Al-Qaeda terrorists, broke out of Abu Ghraib prison in July 2013 after a military-style raid to free them. The attacks were carried out after months of preparations on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militant Islamist organization has claimed responsibility for the assaults on Iraqs Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons. Between 500 to 1,000 prisoners have escaped as a result of the attacks.

ISIS had a falling out with the Syrian Sunni radical group Jabhat al-Nusra the Nusra Front, and the rift caused al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri to disown ISIL and al-Baghdadi. But in June 2014, reports said al-Nusra agreed to send its fighters to join the Islamic State, giving its thrust into Iraq even greater energy. Many intelligence estimates have pegged al-Baghdadis force at some 15,000. If al-Nusra, which has a similar force strength, had indeed merged there could be 30,000 fighters under the Islamic States black banner.

The Islamic State recruited at least 6,300 men in July 2014, Rami Abdelrahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters on 19 August 2014. This was a big expansion from early estimates suggesting the group numbered around 15,000. Around a thousand of the new fighters were foreign, and the rest Syrian, he said. The surge followed Islamic State's rapid advance in northern Iraq in June, where its capture of the city of Mosul furnished it with new weaponry and resources, some of which were diverted to Syria. Much of the recruitment had taken place in Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa.

Andreas Krieg, an expert on transnational groups in the Middle East and a lecturer at King's College London, noted in June 2014 that the Islamic State " ... is quite fragile at the moment. They don't have the fighting force to actually administer the vast territory that they have gained. So I think because they are weak right now, if we act quickly, I think something can be done. But once they consolidate their power over months to come, I think we will face a much bigger problem that we will not be able to contain".

The number of Islamic State recruits is much higher than that estimated by foreign observers around 100,000, one of Iraqs foremost security experts with unique access to intelligence said on 28 August 2014. The terrorists are swallowing up other insurgent groups. Foreign estimates put the figure between 20,000 and 50,000. [The] Islamic State didnt come from nowhere, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Iraqs intelligence services and analyzes raw information gathered on the ground. He had studied the groups progression for years. Recruitment has never been easier, according to al-Hashimi.

Voice of America reported [without attribuation] on 02 Septemer 2014 that "Even before U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) was forging a professional military force, stoking Sunni unrest, mounting brutal bombing campaigns - and barbaric killings. It boasts of 50,000 fighters in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq while recruiting 6,000 more last month alone."

US intelligence authorities said 12 September 2014 that the Islamic State was more powerful than they originally estimated. The Central Intelligence Agency said the group had between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters on the ground in Iraq and Syria. This is much higher than the previous estimate of 10,000.

Matt Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, appeared on the Charlie Rose Show on 07 October 2014. He clarified that the 30,000 estimated number of ISIL fighters did not the estimted 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria, placing the total ISIL strength at nearly 50,000.

Up to 50,000 militants are currently fighting within the ranks of Islamic State (IS) terrorist groups, and this number is growing as extremists from a number of states including the CIS are joining them, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said 26 September 2014. "The Islamic State radical movement currently controlling some parts of Iraq and Syria is growing stronger. Their numbers, according to preliminary data, range from 30,000 to 50,000 and they are able to undermine international security," Patrushev said, adding that supporters of radical Islam from Europe, the United States and the CIS continue to join the group and that the militants are characterized by high skill levels and cruelty in particular.

The Islamic State jihadist organization recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since America began targeting the group with air strikes in early August 2014, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 28 September 2014. At least 1,300 of the new recruits are said to be foreigners, who have joined IS from outside the parts of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

Islamic State militants killed 120 of its own members, most of them foreign fighters trying to return home, in the last two months of 2014, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the Munich Security Conference in February 2015 that Weve disrupted their command structure, undermined its propaganda, taken out half of their senior leadership, squeezed its financing, damaged its supply networks, dispersed its personnel, and forced them to think twice before they move in an open convoy.

But experts who track IS told Bloomberg News 13 March 2015 that the Shura and Sharia councils, the groups that advise IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were mostly untouched and theyre skeptical that what Kerry said was accurate. Al-Baghdadi himself was still around, notwithstanding a close call in November when he was seriously injured in an air strike and had since recovered. And even though those airstrikes have killed several regional leaders, they were quickly replaced by a senior leadership unaffected by bombing raids.

In December 2015 US officials became the latest to join the chorus of voices accusing Islamic State of child conscription, saying the terror group recently sank to new lows. We're seeing them lowering the conscription age," Colonel Pat Ryder, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said 04 December 2015. This again is an indication that they are scraping to replace the losses that they've experienced on the battlefield.

Evidence indicates the conscripts are as young as 10 and are used in various capacities, including to fight. Children have long been featured in Islamic State propaganda, sometimes touted as Cubs of the Caliphate. In a recent propaganda video posted on an IS website, six children were featured carrying out the execution of prisoners.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group with researchers across Syria, IS recruited more than 1,100 children in 2015. Researchers with Human Rights Watch said they were also hearing reports of the increased use of child soldiers by Islamic State. They pointed to UN findings that most of the 480 dead Islamic State fighters found after Iraqi forces retook the town of Baiji were children or teenagers.

According to UNAMI, in 2015 Daesh forcibly recruited children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers. According to the UN report on children and armed conflict, from August 2014 to June 2015, Daesh forcibly recruited hundreds of boys as young as eight years old from Ninewa Governorate, including Yezidis and Turkmen, and sent them to centers to train on weapons and learn combat. On January 14, a video widely circulated on social media showed a Daesh training camp for children in Tall Afar District in Ninewa Governorate.

The video, titled Farouq Institute for Cubs, showed children under the age of 15 training to use weapons. On 06 February 2015, Daesh imposed compulsory recruitment of children in Rutba, Anbar Governorate. The Ministry of Human Rights and local media reported that on June 21, Daesh abducted more than 800 children and held them at al-Salamiya Camp in Mosul. Children ages five to 10 were placed in religious education camps, and children ages 10 to 15 were forced to attend military training. According to UNAMI, Daesh allegedly stopped allowing families to pay 500,000 dinars ($455) in lieu of service.

For most militaries, let alone a terrorist group with aspirations of statehood, the mathematics would seem daunting if not impossible: a force of up to about 30,000 losing more than two-thirds of its fighters in just over a year. That is the pounding US military officials claim airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have dealt the Islamic State from August 2014 to December 2015, with the overall death toll put at 23,000. Yet the official U.S. intelligence estimates of Islamic State force strength in Iraq and Syria remained practically unchanged from before the strikes began, staying between 20,000 to 30,0000, thanks to a steady influx of foreign fighters.

Despite a number of military setbacks across Iraq in 2015, by early 2016 ISIL's manpower and their ability to carry out attacks did not seem to be waning.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonon said 06 February 2016 that 34 militant groups worldwide had reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group as of mid-December. Militant groups from countries like the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Libya and Nigeria had pledged their allegiance, so IS posed 'an unprecedented threat,' Ban said

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Page last modified: 07-09-2018 07:16:32 ZULU