Destroying the Islamic State is proving more difficult than the United States and its allies envisioned, with the most recent intelligence assessments warning that the self-declared caliphate is well-positioned to rise again.
For months, U.S. and coalition officials have talked about how the combination of air power and partner forces on the ground cleared the IS terror group, also known as ISIS or Daesh, from about 98 percent of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq.
But now these same officials admit it is not yet enough.
IS “is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson told VOA in an emailed statement.
“ISIS probably is still more capable than al-Qaida in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic State and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq,” Robertson added. “ISIS remains a threat, and even one ISIS fighter is one too many.”
The statement came in response to questions about the latest Defense Department intelligence estimates, which put the number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria between 28,000 and almost 32,000, close to the types of numbers the terror group boasted at the height of its power.
A separate report this week from the United Nations came to a similar conclusion, estimating there are up to 30,000 IS fighters, split roughly between the two countries.
‘Not a good metric’
The numbers stand in stark contrast with the types of figures and anecdotes the coalition has provided until recently at briefings with reporters, suggesting IS fighters have been backed into a few remaining pockets in Syria, while often “hiding in onesies and twosies” while trying to blend in with local populations.