US officials announced this week that ISIS has lost more territory in Iraq and Syria as the international effort to take back land the terrorist group seized continues.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said during a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) has lost 45% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 30-35% of the populated areas it once held across its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.
“This enemy has really suffered a string of defeats on the battlefield,” Warren said. “Nothing they have done in the past few months has really been effective.”
Losing territory goes against ISIS’ message of “remaining and expanding,” a platform that it has used to recruit thousands of foreign fighters to the Middle East. As ISIS loses ground, the flow of foreigners to its territory has slowed significantly and defections have increased.
ISIS has now realigned its strategy to focus on terror attacks rather than territory. The group has been carrying out attacks on the West — such as those in Brussels and Paris — as well as in places like Baghdad, where ISIS has claimed responsibility for a recent wave of suicide bombings.
“Because the [Iraqi Security Forces] are proving increasingly effective, ISIL wants to throw punches that land,” Warren said. “To do this, they appear to have chosen to revert to some of their terrorist roots.”
The bombings and other attacks allow ISIS to project an image of power even as the “caliphate,” the name ISIS uses for its self-declared Islamic state, is shrinking.
But even as ISIS is on the defensive, the group isn’t necessarily losing.
Tim Arango explained in The New York Times:
The situation in Baghdad and the territorial fight against the Islamic State in other provinces are related.
The reflex of the Shiite leadership is to protect Baghdad — to answer the agonized voices of victims of terrorism — and that is likely to prompt calls for military and police units to be pulled from the front lines to secure the capital. In that way, the resurgent terrorist threat in Baghdad could begin stalling the improving military pushes outside the city — including efforts to finally direct an offensive toward retaking Mosul, the main city in the north.
Warren tried to ease these fears by noting that the Iraqi government “has not redeployed any troops to Baghdad” in the aftermath of the bombings.
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