The United States–led coalition has killed 50,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria in the past two years. The estimate is conservative, according to a U.S. military official, but also represents the largest casualty number reported in the battle against the extremist group.
The casualties are straining ISIS’s capabilities, a spokesman for military operations in Iraq told the Associated Press. The terror group hasn’t been able to replace fighters as easily as in the past, and the flow of foreign recruits from Europe and other Middle Eastern countries has slowed in recent months. However, ISIS’s attrition may also be forcing them to enlist younger and younger soldiers, a horrific strategy that balloons its ranks but would seem to signal its increasing desperation.
The U.S. military has waged air strikes against militants, including in Iraq where Iraqi government forces and its allies are engaged in a brutal, drawn-out battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which fell to ISIS in 2014. In Mosul, U.S. air strikes against ISIS — which is believed to have about 5,000 fighters embedded in the city — could be more aggressive, the military official also said, but it’s risky because of the number of civilians still trapped in the urban area. Overall, the U.S. has about 5,000 troops in Iraq and more than 300 in Syria, made up mostly of special forces who provide logistical and intelligence support.