Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said he’s standing by his assertion that “we recorded an enormous loss for Daesh, also known as ISIS, more than 10,000 since this campaign started, and this will eventually have an effect” — but added this morning that “the number in and of itself alone doesn’t mean much.”
“Here’s what’s going on. We had 22 countries, the core of the 62-country coalition, come together in Paris to see where we are in this campaign. The coalition has being together for nine months. And we have seen some setbacks including in Ramadi, but we have seen significant progress,” Blinken told CNN today. “Part of that progress is the fact that ISIL now controls 25 percent less territory in Iraq than it did when the coalition got together. And part of that progress is the serious damage that’s been inflicted on it in terms of its loss of men and its loss of material. So that’s a big part of the equation.”
Critics, though, have noted that much of the recaptured territory consists of empty desert while cities such as Mosul, which fell nearly a year ago, remain in ISIS hands.
“But equally important is what the Iraqis are doing to take advantage of that, and what the entire coalition is doing to stop foreign fighters from getting into Iraq in the first place to stop them from radicalizing. So all of these things taken together are important elements. The number is just one piece of them,” Blinken added.
And that number is his “best assessment.”
“We have talked about this for months. We’ve talked about the thousands of ISIL fighters that have been taken off the battlefield. But again, what is important here is that we have the right strategy and we’re making the right adjustments to deal with any setbacks,” he said.
“…What the prime minister in Iraq is doing now and the plan he presented to the coalition is to mobilize local fighters because they will fight for their towns, they will fight for their families, they will fight for their lives. Getting more arms to them more quickly and getting them mobilized and getting them paid, and that is moving forward, and that is something the coalition supports.”
Blinken said ISIS is not just about a military strategy but a propaganda strategy.
“They are trying to tell young, impressionable people around the world who are recruited as foreign fighters, and they are on the march, they are succeeding, they’re moving forward, and we are not, and in fact it’s just the opposite,” he said.
But since the CIA last September estimated 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, is the administration now claiming it took out half of ISIS?
“No. What we’re saying is two thing. One, the coalition, has been the Iraqis themselves have done serious damage and taken a lot of territory away from ISIL,” Blinken replied. “But second, as important as that is dealing with the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and in Syria, dealing with their recruitment, because if you wind up taking a lot of people off the battlefield but they are simply replaced by others, you are not going to wind up in a better place.”