U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that ISIS may be losing ground in Syria as its numbers continue to decline and Kurdish forces advance on its capital, Raqqa.
Earlier this week, Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes pushed ISIS fighters out of two key cities, al Thawrah and Ash Shaddadi, that are situated along supply routes ISIS uses to get to Raqqa, according to The Daily Beast. These victories, which have caused ISIS to lose ground in Syria, may mark a turning point in the war.
“They are shifting the fight toward territory that is fruitful,” a Department of Defense official told The Daily Beast. “The more we show they are indeed not a state the more we are undermining their narrative.”
U.S. intelligence reports released on Feb. 4 also show that ISIS is losing numbers, according to Russia Today. Whereas old estimates placed the number of fighters at 20,000 to 31,500, the new range is set at 19,000 to 25,000 fighters, the result of successful airstrike campaigns as well as efforts to stop the flow of fighters coming into Syria and Iraq from other countries.
Despite these advances, however, ISIS remains a capable threat in many parts of Syria, fending off a months-long onslaught of Russian-led airstrikes and claiming responsibility for a series of bombings in the Syrian city of Homs, which killed at least 200 people. One explanation for its losses in al Thawrah and Ash Shaddadi may be that the group is choosing where to fight more aggressively, preferring to combat Syrian ground forces and Russian airstrikes in Palmyra rather than Kurdish forces and U.S. airstrikes near Raqqa.
“ISIS is prioritizing fighting the Syrian regime over Kurdish forces. We are at the beginning of that trend,” said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War. “They are ceding territory in the north while consolidating in central Syria and positioning themselves in the west.”