As European governments scramble to contain the expanding terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State, on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria the group is a rapidly diminishing force.According to the Pentagon, the IS has lost about half the territory it controlled at its peak in 2014; some of the people Sly consulted think Mosul could be retaken at any time.
In the latest setbacks for the militants on Thursday, Syrian government troops entered the outskirts of the historic town of Palmyra after a weeks-old offensive aided by Russian airstrikes, and U.S. airstrikes helped Iraqi forces overrun a string of Islamic State villages in northern Iraq that had been threatening a U.S. base nearby.
These are just two of the many fronts in both countries where the militants are being squeezed, stretched and pushed back.Nowhere are they on the attack. They have not embarked on a successful offensive in nearly nine months. Their leaders are dying in U.S. strikes at the rate of one every three days, inhibiting their ability to launch attacks, according to U.S. military officials.
Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack.
If these accounts of decline are true, they are great news, although the IS seems to be compensating for its losses in conventional warfare by ramping up terrorism in Europe and across the Middle East. My hesitation is that all of the people putting out these optimistic assessments have strong interests in their being true – the Pentagon, the Iraqi Army, the Kurds – and they have all underestimated the IS before. We'll know soon enough.