Islamic State group lost nearly a quarter of its territory in 2016

January 19, 2017 10:50 am

Islamic State group Photo by REX USA .

An international think tank says Daesh lost control over a quarter of the territory which it held in and last year amid major operations in both countries to drive out foreign-backed terrorists. 
According to a report published by the London-based IHS Conflict Monitor on Wednesday, Daesh-controlled terrain shrank by 23 percent from 78,000 square kilometers in early January 2016 to 60,400 square kilometers by the end of the year.
The figure compares to a loss of 14 percent in the preceding year, when the Takfiri extremists’ area contracted from 90,800 square kilometers to 78,000 square kilometers.
Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor, said Daesh “suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project.”
The report further disclosed that disagreement is increasing within Daesh ranks over the militant group’s strategy in the face of territorial losses and, more significantly, its authority on theological grounds.
Daesh “is internally divided into two opposing doctrinal trends: the mainstream view drawn from Turki al-Bin’ali, and the more extreme interpretation following the ideas of Ahmed al-Hazimi,” Ludovico Carlino, a senior analyst with IHS Conflict Monitor, said.
Carlino further warned that the theological dispute has increased the risk of defections from Daesh to rival extremist groups in Syria, or even potential internal break-up.

This file photo shows members of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group in an undisclosed location in Iraq.

The IHS Conflict Monitor report also expected Iraqi army soldiers, supported by fighters from Hashd al-Sha’abi and Kurdish forces, to retake Mosul from Daesh terrorists before the second half of the current year. Iraqi launched the joint liberation operation on October 17, 2016.  
“After Mosul, the Iraqi government will probably focus its attention on the remaining pocket of resistance around Hawija, which the extremists are using as a base for their campaign of sustained terrorist attacks in Baghdad,” Strack said.
The report went on to deem the recapture of the northern Syrian city of Raqqah, which serves as the Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria, as much more problematic than the liberation of Mosul, given the complex political and military considerations involved.

The Islamic State group lost nearly a quarter of its territory in Iraq and Syria last year, according to a report released Thursday by research firm IHS Markit.

Between early January 2016 and the end of the year the Islamic State’s self-declared “caliphate” fell from 78,000 to 60,400 square kilometres (47,500 to 38,500 square miles ), IHS Markit said.

“The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” said Columb Strack, head of IHS’s Conflict Monitor.

The figures for last year demonstrate further decline of IS-controlled land, which the research group said dropped from 90,800 to 78,000 square kilometres in 2015.

Iraqi forces are currently fighting to recapture Mosul from IS which overran the country’s second city in early June 2014.

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the so-called “caliphate” from Mosul and if government troops retake the city it would effectively end the group’s claim of running a state.

The IHS Markit analysts estimate that IS fighters could be driven out of Mosul within months, ending the military operation launched on October 17.

“We expect Iraqi government forces to recapture Mosul before the second half of the year,” Strack said.

The battle to regain IS’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqa, in northern Syria, will however prove more difficult, according to IHS Markit.

“Raqa represents the core of the Islamic State and they are unlikely to leave without a fight.

“It would probably take a major ground intervention by one of the main external players, the US, Turkey, or Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government forces, to expel the Islamic State from Raqa in 2017,” said Strack.

A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance has been battling since November 5 to drive IS from Raqa, taking large areas of northern Raqa province.

On December 10 the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the second phase of its Raqa operation, aiming to liberate more territory and isolate the city.

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