Over at Long War Journal, Bill Roggio writes that the Obama administration has “grossly underestimated” the Islamic State’s military manpower:
In September 2014, the CIA estimated that the Islamic State had somewhere between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters within its ranks. If Blinken’s estimate of the number of Islamic State fighters killed in the last nine months is accurate, then the Islamic State’s ranks, based on the number of fighters estimated by the CIA in September 2014, has been degraded by between one-third and one-half.
And yet, since September 2014, the Islamic State has gained ground in Syria and lost ground in some areas in Iraq while gaining in others. Overall, the Islamic State’s footprint in Iraq and Syria has increased since September 2014.
It has been obvious for some time that the CIA’s September 2014 analysis of the Islamic State’s numbers was a gross underestimate (In June 2014, when the Islamic State was storming throughout northern and central Iraq, the CIA put the Islamic State’s numbers at merely 10,000).
Last September, I noted that the Islamic State had to have more than 50,000 fighters in its ranks, and I was being conservative.
Roggio concludes that despite losing 10,000 fighters — if State Department claims are to be believed — ISIS “appears to be able to replace its battlefield losses.”
That State Department claim came from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday, who was apparently speaking out of turn. Although under the Obama administration, this sort of Vietnam War measure of victory seems to be coming back into vogue.
Blinken also told French radio yesterday that “at the start of this campaign (we) said it would take time. We have conceived a three-year plan and we’re nine months into it.”
Why three years to defeat 50,000 or so fighters, when we once needed only three weeks to defeat an Iraqi army several times larger? The short answer is that the White House doesn’t take the ISIS threat seriously — Obama still considers them to be the “jayvee.” That’s the only safe conclusion after reading this:
“Seventy-five percent of the sorties that we’re currently running with our attack aircraft come back without dropping bombs, mostly because they cannot acquire the target or properly identify the target,” said U.S. Army General (ret) Jack Keane in testimony before the U.S. Senate last week.
That’s why White House and Pentagon briefers usually talk about the number of sorties, not the number of air strikes. The number of missions flown is four times larger than the number of bombing runs.
Gen. Keane offered a straightforward solution. “Forward air controllers fix that problem,” he said.
So where are the forward air controllers? Putting “boots on the ground” would soil Obama’s self-proclaimed title as “The President Who Ends Wars.” If the situation in the Middle East contradicts that, well, who you gonna believe — Obama or your own lyin’ eyes?
I would just add that a three-year campaign, begun nine months ago, places “victory” just a bit outside the end of Obama’s administration. Ending the ISIS threat will fall on the shoulders of the next president, who stands to inherit a very serious mess indeed.