Daesh is as strong as a year back: CIA

Daesh is as strong as a year back: CIA
"We've seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers," a defence official said.

Washington - The intelligence was described by officials who would not be named because they were not authorised to discuss it publicly.


Published: Sat 1 Aug 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 2 Aug 2015, 3:07 AM

After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Daesh 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 Daesh under increasing pressure in northern Syria. But intelligence analysts see the overall situation as a strategic stalemate: The Daesh group remains a well-funded extremist army able to replenish its ranks with foreign fighters 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 "Daesh is losing" in Iraq and Syria.
The intelligence was described by officials who would not be named because they were not authorised to discuss it publicly.
"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.
Daesh'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 other officials 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 Daesh from its safe havens, analysts say.
The US-led coalition and its Syrian and Kurdish allies on the ground have made some inroads. Daesh has lost 9.4 per cent of its territory in the first six months of 2015, according to an analysis by the conflict monitoring group IHS. And the military campaign has arrested the sense of momentum and inevitability created by the group's stunning advances last year, leaving the combination of religious extremists and former Saddam Hussein loyalists unable to grow its forces or continue its surge.
"In Raqqa, they are being slowly strangled," said an activist who fled Raqqa earlier this year. "There is no longer a feeling that Raqqa is a safe haven for the group."
A Delta Force raid in Syria that killed Daesh financier Abu Sayyaf in May also has resulted in a well of intelligence about the group's structure and finances, US officials say. His wife, held in Iraq, has been cooperating with interrogators.
Syrian Kurdish fighters and their allies have wrested most of the northern Syria border from the Daesh group.
In June, the US-backed alliance captured the border town of Tal Abyad, which for more than a year had been the militants' most vital direct supply route from Turkey. The Kurds also took the town of Ein Issa, a hub for Daesh movements and supply lines only 56km north of Raqqa.
In Raqqa, US coalition bombs pound the group's positions and target its leaders with increasing regularity. The militants' movements have been hampered by strikes against bridges, and some fighters are sending their families away to safer ground.
In early July, a wave of strikes in 24 hours destroyed 18 overpasses and a number of roads used by the group in and around Raqqa.
But American officials and other experts say that in the big picture, Daesh is hanging tough.
Daesh's seizure of the strategically important provincial capital of Ramadi has so far stood. The group has adjusted its tactics to thwart a US bombing campaign that tries to avoid civilian casualties, officials say. - AP

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