The U.S. intelligence community has determined that the campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group is failing to make progress and is, at best, at a "strategic stalemate." The assessment confirms Clarion Project’s analysis in May that the flow of foreign fighters to the Islamic State means the group is making up for all of its casualties and is probably growing in number.
The campaign has killed about 10,000 Islamic State terrorists over the one-year campaign but, as one defense official put it, "We see no meaningful degradation in their numbers." We pointed out in May that the coalition was killing about 1,200 per month. The current count of 10,000 brings that down to about 830. Estimates of the flow of new foreigners joining the fight range from 850 to 1,250 per month and that doesn't even include the Islamic State's recruitment within the territory it controls.
The Islamic State's recruiting pool is far from drained. Polling data about the group's popularity is available for 11 Arab countries and it indicates that about 6% view the group positively. The statistic increases to about 12% if you include those who view it somewhat positively. That equates to about 42 million supporters, with 22 million being strong supporters. All the Islamic State needs to do is get them to act on their beliefs.
The number of 10,000 is even less impressive when you consider the overall strength of the Islamic State. An official quoted in an Associated Press article continues to use the deceptive number of 20-30,000 when sizing up the group. That governmental estimate is only referring to "fighters." As we wrote, fairer estimates bring the number to 100,000 to as high as 200,000. That doesn't even include all of its international affiliates, like its absorption of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The Associated Press article breaking the story states that the Islamic State's caliphate has suffered a 9.4% decrease in size this year, particularly due to the effectiveness of the Kurds in northern Syria. However, the Islamic State is bigger than just Iraq and Syria. The 9.4% decrease does not appear to include gains in other countries. Major gains in Afghanistan and Pakistan should be expected with the Taliban announcing the death of Mullah Omar.
The U.S. will need non-Kurdish Syrian rebels that will fight the Islamic State outside the Kurdish areas, but the U.S. program to support "moderate" rebels is a disaster. One U.S.-backed group, Division 30, was just smashed by Al-Qaeda and had to flee to the Syrian Kurds for safety. Another was crushed by Al-Qaeda in February and its remnants joined Islamist rebels.
Other personnel on the ground are needed but the U.S. effort to support "moderate" Syrian rebels is pathetic. The Pentagon program to train 5,000 this year has only produced 54 fighters. There's a major recruitment problem because defeating the Syrian dictatorship takes precedent over defeating the Islamic State for most rebels and the U.S. requires that its support only go towards the latter.
In addition, rebels complain of being inadequately supported and Islamists dominate the rebel ranks. The Free Syria Army's Southern Front is seen as the best rebel force, but it includes 50 factions that includes Islamist radicals and forces that coordinate with Al-Qaeda against their common enemy.
The campaign against the Islamic State is in a major state of disrepair. U.S. policy discriminates against the oppressed Christians and Sunni and Kurdish allies complain about a lack of support and reliance on Iranian proxies. Pilots are frustrated over rules of engagement that are so restrictive that even Iraqi allies say the U.S. is being overly cautious.
The intelligence community's conclusion that we are at a stalemate in the war against the Islamic State is optimistic. The current trends are in the Islamic State's favor.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.