The military defeat of ISIS is one of the great good news stories of 2017, something I blogged about before (“If ISIS falls in a desert, Obama is no longer the president, does anyone hear about it?”). The counter-offensive against ISIS in Syria and Iraq has been of course going on for quite some time, after the initial explosion and expansion of the Caliphate post-2013, but it has definitely sped up this year.
The intelligence estimates have some 70,000 jihadis killed so far by the mostly American airforce and the Iraqi, Kurdish and opposition Syrian forces on the ground. This represents a staggering total of over 5 million virgins required in the Paradise to meet the post-martyrdom demand.
At its most extensive, in 2014, ISIS controlled an area of over 100,000 square kilometres across Syria and Iraq. At the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, the Caliphate still covered half that territory. Today it is down to under 2,000 square kilometres of desert along the Euphrates.
At its peak, in 2015, some 45,000 ISIS fighters were holding onto their territory, including the “capital” of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq. At the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the total numbers of fighters was still around 35,000. As of 20 December, it is estimated at only approximately 1,000.
Between September 2014, when the counter-offensives against ISIS began, and January 2017, some 2.3 million Syrians and Iraqis have been liberated from under the ISIS rule. Since January 2017, another 5.3 million people have regained freedom.
Both Obama and Trump have done their bit in this fight. Trump’s supporters will argue that the speeding up of ISIS’s collapse on his watch has been due to the decision to make the rules of engagement more flexible for the US military. His detractors will no doubt credit Obama with lying all the groundwork for victory, and argue that after a certain tipping point a fast collapse is the norm in warfare (see: Nazi Germany in 1944-45). The 7.6 million Syrian and Iraqis freed from life under a medieval theocracy with 21st century technology arguably won’t care very much either way.