Over the past few weeks, the White House has been waging a multi-faceted messaging campaign to convince the American public and the world that President Obama has the right plan to destroy ISIS.
In major addresses overseas, speeches at the Defense Department and the National Counterterrorism Center and wide-ranging media interviews, the president has sought to calm the nerves of a public made jittery after the ISIS attacks in Paris and the domestic terror strike in California.
But aside from high-minded rhetoric urging more patience and stats about the number of airstrikes the coalition has launched in the last 16 months, the president has had little tangible evidence to offer. Until now.
An analysis by HIS Jane’s Conflict Monitor team estimates that ISIS lost nearly 800 square miles, or 14 percent, of its territory in 2015. The terror group, while still in control of large chunks of land and cities inside Iraq and Syria, was routed along Syria’s northern border with Turkey, which has long been a concern of the U.S. and its allies as a major causeway for jihadists.
The rollback can largely be credited to Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, who have become the critical ally on the ground in the anti-ISIS fight. Jane’s estimates that the Kurds expanded the territory under their control by 9,800 square miles, or 186 percent, in the last calendar year.
But for every action, there is an opposite reaction: ISIS drove deeper into western Syria and captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, which was a major blow to the government in Baghdad.
The estimates come at a critical time for the U.S.-led effort against ISIS. Iraqi forces are now engaged in a bitter fight to retake Ramadi from the extremist group. Earlier this month Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Iraqi progress in retaking the city had been "disappointingly slow” but the picture seems to be improving.
“I think the fall of Ramadi is inevitable,” Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a tough fight.”
The independent analysis offer a concrete example of the progress Obama’s strategy for eliminating ISIS and could be used to as a tool by the administration to fend off critics who believe the White House should ramp up the battle against the terror group.
In an interview with NPR released earlier this week, the president admitted he hadn’t done a good job explaining the inroads that had been made.
“If people haven't seen the fact that in fact 9,000 strikes have been carried out against ISIL, if they don't know that towns like Sinjar that were controlled by ISIL have been taken back, or that a town like Tikrit, that was controlled by ISIL, now has been repopulated by previous residents, then they might feel as if there's not enough of a response,” he said, using the other common acronym for the group.