U.S. special operations forces have killed more than three dozen members of ISIS, a terrorist group responsible for carrying out attacks in France, Belgium and Egypt over the past year.
Since the group, also known as the Islamic State or ISIL, took power in parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, ISIS has been touting its ability to strike nations it deems enemies, or to inspire homegrown terrorists to carry out attacks in their own countries.
However, defense officials say Delta Force and Navy SEALs have eliminated 40 “external operations leaders, planners and facilitators” tied to attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians abroad, according to the Daily Beast.
These ISIS operatives have been targeted specifically for carrying out “external operations,” which according to officials include 60 attacks in 21 countries that have killed 1,000 people since January 2015. Special operations combat aircraft and troops who carried out raids on ISIS were responsible for most of the deaths, which occurred mainly in Syria and only when the targets resisted arrest.
More than twice as many overall ISIS targets have been taken off the battlefield, including prominent leaders such as Haji Imam, the next in line to succeed ISIS’ self-proclaimed leader Omar al-Baghdadi. These efforts, according to defense officials, are working; the number of ISIS fighters has dropped from its peak of 33,000 one year ago to only about 19,000 to 25,000 today. Furthermore, the recruitment of foreign fighters who come to Iraq and Syria from abroad has also dropped, from about 2,000 every month in 2015 to only 200 per month in 2016.
Despite these figures, officials such as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter caution that it’s important not to be overly optimistic. Carter said on April 28 that it’s “hard to be accurate” when estimating the number of fighters the group has, and the director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper said ISIS cells most likely already exist throughout Europe.
In response, the U.S. will escalate its attacks against ISIS at its bases in the Middle East, as President Barack Obama announced in Germany on April 25. Obama said the special operations advising team inside Syria will grow to include up to 300 people, up from its current figure of 50.