Recent headlines seem to suggest that the Islamic State is losing its war of conquest in the Middle East. The militant jihadist group has been driven out of stronghold areas and several top officials have been killed in recent months. So is ISIS really losing the war?
As Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's Seeker Daily report, the short answer is yes.
The Islamic State's stated goal is to establish a global caliphate, which it hopes to achieve by waging war and overthrowing existing governments. By the end of 2014, ISIS had taken over territories in both Iraq and Syria, and extended its caliphate more than 35,000 square miles -- about the size of the U.S. state of Maine.
Those figures have since been substantially reduced. According to U.S. government estimates, ISIS has lost nearly half of its holdings in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria since 2014. They've also been driven out of major cities including Fallujah, Kobani and Palmyra.
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It's estimated that around 45,000 ISIS fighters have been killed during this period, along with several key leaders. With the loss of territory, ISIS has also lost many significant sources of revenue -- fewer civilian areas under their control means ISIS leaders have fewer citizens to tax and extort. Much of the group's oil infrastructure has been destroyed, as well.
What turned the tide? In August and September of 2014, a coalition led by the U.S. began arming rebel groups and carrying out airstrikes on ISIS strongholds. The coalition also partnered with Kurdish and Iraqi armies to engage ISIS forces directly.
Still, the Islamic State continues to operate, mostly relying on tax income from the territories they do still control. One of their key strongholds is Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and a major source of oil. As of September 2016, the Iraqi military is planning a major offensive to retake the city.
-- Glenn McDonald
CNN: What Does ISIS Really Want?
The New York Times: US Official Says IS Has Lost Half Its Territory in Iraq
Time: Timeline: The Rise of ISIS
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