McChrystal says there has been a spike in ISIS recruits over past few years

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal said Friday that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has seen a resurgence over the last few years, saying that there are more ISIS members now than there were when the U.S. first started waging a campaign to destroy the group in 2014.

The former army general argues that, while ISIS might have lost much of its territory due to a U.S.-led intervention four years ago, the radical jihadist group remains a threat because it’s not so much a group as it is an ideology.

“ISIS is, numerically, I was told this just recently there are actually more ISIS members now than there were two or three years ago when we started the campaign,” McChrystal told Hill.TV's Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on "Rising."

“But in my view ISIS is an idea — al Qaeda was an original small, traditional terrorist group — al Qaeda in Iraq was 2.0, it was a terrorist group on information technology steroids and so it was very effective,” he continued.

McChrystal didn't cite a specific number or the report he was referring to, but the United Nations estimates that there are between 20,000 and 30,000 active ISIS fighters between Iraq and Syria alone, according to a report in July. This is roughly the same number of recruits that the group had at its peak in 2014

Largely made up of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria, ISIS has since drawn recruits from around the world due in large part to the rise of social media platforms like Facebook. 

The retired general said ISIS is now able spread its propaganda and recruit with relative ease.   

“The idea is still out there as long the basic motivations created the idea there, then I think ISIS has the ability to recruit international now using social media pretty easily,” he said.

ISIS began as an offshoot of al Qaeda in 2014 and subsequently took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, where it established an Islamic state called a caliphate.

Even though the group has lost some strongholds in Syria like Hajin near the Iraqi border, McChrystal warns that the country remains fragile due to ongoing conflict, which he says has been exacerbated by the presence of conflicting foreign powers.

“I think if we talk internationally, I think we of course always worry about Syria, because the state is broken and so the entire area is infected by the instability there with the Iranians, the Russians, and different players, so there’s always a chance that that explodes in an ugly way,” he said.

McChrystal served as the United States' top Army commander in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. He was later asked to resign by then-President Obama after making critical comments over the administration's handling of the war. 

— Tess Bonn