Analysis: ISIS loses another 12 percent of territory

Analysis: ISIS loses another 12 percent of territory
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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lost 12 percent of its territory in the last six months, according to a new analysis from research firm IHS.

Coupled with last year's 14 percent loss, the terror group's territory in Iraq and Syria is now roughly the size of Ireland or West Virginia.

“Over the past 18 months, the Islamic State has continued to lose territory at an increasing rate,” Columb Strack, senior analyst at IHS and lead analyst for the IHS Conflict Monitor, said in a statement. “As the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency. As a result, we unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.”

The new analysis, released Sunday, came just before Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Monday in Iraq that President Obama approved sending 560 more U.S. troops to that country to help in the fight against ISIS.

Carter framed the decision as a way to bolster efforts to retake Mosul, ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq. Preparations for that operation are underway.

“At every step in this campaign, we have generated and seized additional opportunities to hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat,” Carter said, using an alternate acronym for the group. “These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight.” 

Iraqi forces, bolstered by the U.S.-led coalition’s airpower, recently retook Fallujah from ISIS, a high-profile loss for the terror group.

In Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are working to retake Manbij, a northern Syrian city that provides ISIS access to the Turkish border.

More town and cities are likely to become isolated from ISIS in the coming year, which could fragment the group, according to IHS’s analysis.

“The likely capture of Manbij by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would have a major impact on the Islamic State's ability to supply Raqqa, and by extension the remainder of its territory, with new recruits and supplies, undermining its ability to govern,” Strack said.

In addition to losing territory, ISIS has continued to lose revenue, according to IHS. The firm estimates ISIS has likely lost at least 35 percent of its $56 million revenue since March.

“Combined with the military setbacks on the ground, this is having an impact on the internal cohesion of the group as indicated by a marked increase in defections and desertions since January 2016,” Ludovico Carlino, senior analyst at IHS, said about the lost revenue in a statement.

With the loss of revenue and territory comes a change in messaging, IHS added. 

“For groups like the Islamic State, the battle for hearts and minds is just as important, if not more important, than the military confrontation,” Firas Abi-Ali, senior principal analyst at IHS, said in a statement. “The Islamic State’s messaging has therefore adjusted to the caliphate’s loss of territory by pointing to its expansion outside Iraq and Syria, and to Allah’s assurance of final victory.”