IS ‘no weaker’ after year-long campaign by US-led allies
The Islamic State (IS) group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the US-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded.
The military campaign has prevented Iraq's collapse and put IS under increasing pressure in northern Syria, particularly squeezing its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. But despite billions spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, intelligence analysts see the overall situation as a strategic stalemate.
IS remains a well-funded extremist army able to replenish its ranks with foreign jihadis as quickly as the US can eliminate them. Meanwhile, the group has expanded to other countries, including Libya, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.
The assessments by the CIA, the Defence Intelligence Agency and others appear to contradict the optimistic line taken by the Obama administration's special envoy, retired general John Allen, who told a forum in Aspen, Colorado, last week that "Isis is losing" in Iraq and Syria.
"We've seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers," a defence official said, citing intelligence estimates that put the group's total strength at between 20,000 and 30,000, the same estimate as last August when the air strikes began.
IS's staying power also raises questions about the administration's approach to the threat that the group poses to the US and its allies. Although officials do not believe it is planning complex attacks on the West from its territory, the group's call to Western Muslims to kill at home has become a serious problem, FBI director James Comey and others say.
Yet under the Obama administration's campaign of bombing and training, which prohibits American troops from accompanying fighters into combat or directing air strikes from the ground, it could take a decade to drive IS from its safe havens, analysts say.