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ISIS Preparing for End of Caliphate in Middle East, But Remains Dangerous Abroad

( [email protected] ) Jul 13, 2016 01:27 PM EDT
The Islamic State group is reportedly preparing for the end of its reign of terror in the Middle East amid a string of losses in both Iraq and Syria and a significant decrease in foreign fighters. However, experts believe the terrorist group will nevertheless remain dangerous abroad.
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

The Islamic State group is reportedly preparing for the end of its reign of terror in the Middle East amid a string of losses in both Iraq and Syria and a significant decrease in foreign fighters. However, experts believe the terrorist group will nevertheless remain dangerous abroad.

According to the Washington Post, leaders of ISIS - also known as ISIL and Daesh - are preparing for its strongholds to fall after the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed forces made significant gains in recent months in Iraq and Syria.

A new IHS Conflict Monitor map shows that ISIS controls roughly 26,370 square miles of Iraq and Syria compared to 30,116 square miles at the beginning of the year. IHS also estimated that a year ago, the group's monthly revenue was about $80 million; now it is probably less than $40 million.

In addition, recent data from a secret intelligence report recently sent to the White House, indicates that the number of foreigners fighting for the group is now 12,000, about half what it was in early 2015.

Nevertheless, Islamic State officials, in public statements and in interviews, insist that while they may have lost territory and fighters, the group's "caliphate" project remains viable.

"While we see our core structure in Iraq and Syria under attack, we have been able to expand and have shifted some of our command, media and wealth structure to different countries," a longtime Islamic State operative, speaking through an Internet-based audio service, said in an interview.

In addition, current and former U.S. officials and terrorism experts told the outlet that the terrorist group is not entirely disappearing, as it will still remain dangerous abroad.

"Where Al Qaeda was hierarchical and somewhat controlled, these guys are not. They have all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement," retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden told The Post.

IHS senior analyst Columb Strack told CNN that as the group's caliphate shrinks, it becomes "increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency."

He added: "As a result, we unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe."

Cole Bunzel, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University's Near Eastern studies department who translated ISIS' editorial on the future of the caliphate, told The Post that while the group does not want to lose territory, they will stop at nothing to "remind people that the group has a long history and they're going to persist, just as they did in earlier times."

In June, CIA Director John Brennan testified on Capitol Hill and warned that while IS may be losing ground in the Middle East, the the U.S. government is failing to contain the spread of the jihadists.

"Unfortunately, despite all of our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach. The resources needed for terrorism are modest. The group would have to suffer even heavier losses on territory, manpower and money for the terrorist capacity to decline significantly," Brennan said, grading the two-year anti-IS effort an "F" so far.

He added: "Moreover the group's foreign branches and global networks can help preserve the capacity for terrorism regardless of events in Iraq and Syria. In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL we judge it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda."