Foreign Policy

U.S. airstrikes drive ISIS recruitment down to just 200 new fighters a month

According to a U.S. military official, the number of foreign fighters joining ISIS has decreased sharply over the course of the past year to only about 200 a month.

Roughly a year ago, ISIS was recruiting between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria each month. The numbers come from Air Force Major General Peter Gersten, a deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led coalition, who spoke of the decline of ISIS’s recruitment of foreign fighters and the increase in fighters defecting during a news briefing in Baghdad.

According to Gersten:

 “We’re seeing a fracture in their morale, we’re seeing their inability to pay, we’re seeing the inability to fight, we’re watching them try to leave Daesh in every single way.”

In April, the State Department reported that the number of Islamic State Fighters in Iraq and Syria was lower than it had been at any time over the past two years. This is a major development as Syria has become the main training ground for a new generation of militants. According to a report published by a former British spy chief in 2015, The Islamic State has recruited over 30,000 foreign fighters in the past 18 months.  

The Washington Times has reported that since October, US airstrikes have dealt a significant blow to ISIS’s financing. The airstrikes, dubbed Operation Tidal Wave II, oil fields, banks, and cash houses were hit. US intelligence estimated that the operation has cost the group between $300 and $800 million in financial losses.  

In autumn 2015, President Obama sent 50 special operators to Syria as trainers. According to Melissa Dalton, a former intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, this was an attempt to see if the US could use the training to gain traction with the Arab Sunnis and Kurdish fighters on the ground. Dalton said:

“There’s been some positive momentum built up, with the idea now being, ‘OK, if we expand that out a bit further – multiply the amount of trainers in the country – then perhaps we can multiply the effects.’ ”

On Monday, President Obama announced that 250 more US Special Operations Forces will be sent to Syria.

Featured image: kf_leeds (Flickr)

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