The U.S-led coalition effort against ISIS is coming dangerously close to stalling out.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported American intelligence agencies believe the terror group hasn’t grown any weaker in the year since the U.S. began its bombing campaign that has now seen more than 5,600 airstrikes.
“We’ve seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers,” according to an anonymous defense official, adding the group’s likely strength remains between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters, almost exactly where it was a year ago.
Those figures come despite estimates that the U.S. and its allies have killed 10,000 extremists and demonstrates that ISIS is still able to rally people to its cause, regardless of the international campaign.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s $500 million effort to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to serve as Washington’s de facto ground troops against ISIS reportedly suffered an embarrassing setback on Thursday when one of the group’s leaders, along with his deputy, was captured near the Syria-Turkey border by the Nusra Front, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
The Pentagon program, a major component of the administration’s strategy against ISIS, has become a source of ridicule around the globe after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter disclosed the effort had graduated only 54 recruits, not the thousands originally planned.
Taken together, the developments are likely to prompt fresh questions about Obama’s methods for battling ISIS, just days after DOD announced the price tag for operations against the organization had surpassed $3 billion.
Republican lawmakers, and almost all of the 2016 GOP presidential contenders, have urged the president to put boots on the ground to combat the terror group.
The steady drip of bad news could eventually jangle the nerves of U.S. allies who have signed up for the effort and complicate the task before the Obama administration’s special envoy for the ISIS fight, retired Gen. John Allen.
Last week he told a forum in Aspen, Colorado, that “ISIS is losing” in Iraq and Syria.
For the time being, the administration is likely to keep a straight face about the military campaign.
“I have seen an effect on the ground,” Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, the chief of staff to the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said Friday during a Pentagon press briefing.
He said ISIS had become “much more territorial” and that the group’s attacks have grown smaller and less enduring.
“This is not the same fight it was when it started,” he told reporters.