Back in October of 2014 the CIA estimated that the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq had a military strength of some 20,000 to 30,000 fighters with other US intelligence sources claiming that air-strikes by the United States and its allies had killed several hundred IS combatants up to that point (though just how many were “combatants” and how many were in reality “non-combatants” is open to question). Now senior diplomatic figures have stated that aerial operations by the ad hoc anti-IS coalition have led to the deaths of over 6000 (that’s six thousand) militants in the region. From a report by Al Arabiya News:
“The U.S.-led airstrikes have “taken more than half” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s leadership, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones told Al Arabiya News Channel in an interview aired Thursday.
Jones described the airstrikes as having a “devastating” effect on ISIS after Baghdad criticized Washington for not doing “enough” to eliminate the Islamist group.
“We estimate that the airstrikes have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Jones said. The U.S. ambassador added that the airstrikes have “destroyed more than a thousand of ISIS vehicle inside Iraq.”
If the above figures were true they would mean that the United States led coalition (unofficially including Iran, of course) had managed to kill some 20%-30% of IS armed activists in the now theoretical border-lands of Syria and Iraq. Which stretches credulity to breaking point. Especially when one considers this article published by the Daily Beast just two weeks ago:
“We don’t have the ability to count the nose of every guy we schwack,” Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday, using military jargon for killing. “That’s not the goal.”
Presumably, that also means the Pentagon can’t count how many civilians it has accidentally killed in the name of ridding the region of ISIS. On Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said it had investigated 18 charges so far of civilian casualties from the start of the air campaign against ISIS. Two of those cases are pending.
“I cannot give you a specific number of ISIL fighters [killed],” Kirby noted, using the Pentagon’s preferred acronym. “We just know it is hundreds—several hundreds.”
Putting to one side the employment of juvenile language by supposedly adult military leaders one might do well to remember that as far back as 2012 a study by the Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law had estimated that only 2% of all those killed in drone strikes by the United States in Pakistan were “high-level” targets. While the circumstances and many of the resources deployed in the Syria-Iraq theatre are different there seems little reason to believe that the United States military are having substantially greater successes in targeting the leadership of IS beyond a few high-profile, publicity-seeking figures.