A new White House report has determined the number of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq has plummeted from 31,000 to just 25,000.
This doesn’t mean the Islamic State has ceased to be a threat, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained Thursday. Rather, it shows ISIS influence is starting to wane and the propaganda is starting to lose its hold on militants. Casualties from the battlefield also played a part in the lower number, Reuters reports.
At this point, the U.S. has launched over 10,000 air strikes against ISIS. Devastation in Syria and Iraq has prompted the group to recommend that new recruits specifically from North Africa join the branch in Libya, instead of heading to the Middle East. This resulted in newfound pressure for President Barack Obama’s administration to deploy military efforts to Libya.
Obama is reticent to get involved in more conflicts, though CIA and special operations missions are strongly being considered — large-scale military deployments appear out of the question.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has already stated that some amount of military force will be needed to contain ISIS in Libya. Almost every other department involved in the analysis of Libya has agreed, but the White House is stalling and refusing to make a decision, a senior State Department official told The New York Times.
[dcquiz] ISIS considers Libya important enough to send top officers to train troops and burgeoning leadership. Part of this migration, however, is less a point of strategy and more a point of fleeing the barrage of airstrikes, which continues to pare down ISIS forces and leadership.
ISIS in Libya is booming, with the number of fighters estimated at anywhere between 5,000 and 6,500. Militants there have already taken control of the city of Sirte.
“They are just terrified of it getting much worse, fast,” Patrick Skinner, an analyst at the Soufan Group consultancy, told AFP that the longer the U.S. waits, the worse the situation becomes because of how difficult it is to take back territory once ISIS loses.
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