Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that “over 70 percent of [Iraqi] territory has been recovered” from ISIS in a Sunday interview with Fox News.
“We are well on our way to defeating ISIS,” Tillerson also noted. “We have now taken the caliphate from them in Iraq.”
Data from the RAND Corporation and the Global Coalition Against Daeesh confirms Tillerson’s statement that anti-Islamic State forces have retaken “70 percent” of the territory in Iraq that the Islamic State controlled at its peak.
It is unclear how much territory the Islamic State exactly held at its peak in Iraq. The fluidity of ISIS’s battle line-borders and the lack of formal recognition of ISIS’s borders by the international community all complicate any exact territorial tabulations.
A report by the RAND Corporation estimated that ISIS held just over 58,000 square kilometers of Iraq at its peak in autumn of 2014.
The U.S.-led Global Coalition against ISIS, on the other hand, estimates that ISIS held between 56,000 to 57,800 square kilometers of Iraq around its peak in August 2014.
Both sets of estimates range between 56,000 and 58,000 square kilometers of ISIS’s peak territory in Iraq in August to autumn 2014. Using 57,000 square kilometers as a mid-range estimate, ISIS once held over an eighth of Iraq’s total of 430,000 square kilometers. This territory encompassed prominent Iraqi cities like Mosul, Hawijah, and Ramadi as well as areas surrounding the Iraqi capital of Baghdad; officials and commentators at one point even worried that a then-expansionist ISIS would invade Baghdad.
After the U.S.-led international Coalition organized to fight ISIS in September 2014, the radical Islamic terrorist group’s territorial gains reversed amidst the Coalition’s debilitating airstrikes and material support for forces on the ground.
The RAND report estimates that the Islamic State has lost about 42,300 square kilometers as of this past winter compared to RAND’s peak ISIS territory estimate in autumn 2014.
The Global Coalition alternatively estimates that ISIS has lost between 39,500 and 40,500 square kilometers compared to its peak as of May 2017.
Both sets of estimates range between 39,500 and 42,300 square kilometers of liberated Iraqi territory, with 40,900 square kilometers as a mid-range estimate of ISIS’s net loss.
Comparing the RAND and Global Coalition’s mid-range figures of 57,000 square kilometers for peak IS territory and 40,900 square kilometers for net territory lost by ISIS, Tillerson’s claim holds up – Coalition forces have liberated around 68 percent of the Islamic State’s peak territory in Iraq.
Tillerson’s comments to Fox come after two years of intense fighting by Iraqi and Coalition forces who have freed major ISIS strongholds like Mosul and Ramadi as well as strategic areas around Baghdad. Major blocks of territory in the country’s western fringes that border Syria as well as the prominent city of Hawijah, however, remain under Islamic State control.
The fight ahead against the Islamic State aside, Tillerson’s claim is true: anti-ISIS forces have indeed liberated about “70 percent” of the Islamic State’s peak territory in Iraq.
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