US claims 10,000 Islamic State fighters killed since start of air campaign

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that “more than 10,000” Islamic State fighters and commanders have been killed since the air campaign in Iraq began in August 2014 and subsequently in Syria in September 2014. If true, US intelligence estimates on the strength of the Islamic State are grossly underestimated. From Reuters:

Speaking after the coalition met in Paris, he said there had been a great deal of progress in the fight against Islamic State but that the group remained resilient and capable of taking the initiative.

“We have seen a lot of losses within Daesh since the start of this campaign, more than 10,000,” Blinken said on France Inter radio, using a mildly derogatory term for Islamic State. “It will end up having an impact.”

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. This is the reason why:

Keep in mind that the Islamic State is actively fighting against two governments, as well as Hezbollah, the Peshmerga, the PKK/YPG, Iraqi militias, the Awakening, Syrian tribes, the Free Syrian Army, the Al Nusrah Front, the Islamic Front, and other groups, and now the US military, in an area the size of a large American state, with millions of people living there. There is no way the Islamic State could simultaneously fight on multiple fronts against numerous enemies with just several thousand fighters.

The exact number of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria is not known, as the group doesn’t advertise it. But what is clear is that it is able to recruit and/or conscript from the local populations that it controls, and it is integrating large numbers of foreign fighters from all over the world. At the moment, given its recent successes, the Islamic State appears to be able to replace its battlefield losses.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • An Unhappy Camper says:

    This pile of bilge spewed by Mister Blinken is obviously meant for the dim bulbs out there watching “Naked and Afraid” and “Dancing with the Stars”. This administration has been pulling out the stops trying to convince anybody that this so called bombing campaign is working. It’s obviously not working, just ask anybody in Anbar.

    • Jeff Edelman says:

      I hope Bill and the rest of the folks here at LWJ don’t mind me saying this, cause I don’t want to embarrass them but, I watch DWTS and sometimes Naked and Afraid, and obviously I read LWJ.

  • don owen says:

    Bill, I think you were correct and conservative- they would appear to have at least 50,000 trigger pullers not to mention the logistic guys. They probably pick up at least 1500 a month in new areas captured. Easily replaces monthly losses.

  • Clarence says:

    What are the estimates of non Iraqi coalition forces casualties? I know the Jordian pilot, but beyond that

    • Verneoz says:

      What are the estimates of friendly casualties you ask? As damn low as can be attained. The NATO countries in the “coalition” are a timid, almost cowardly bunch (except for the Brits). The Spanish & Italians are a joke. Europeans have very few boots on the ground (just like in Afghanistan). Obama has token numbers of Special Operations Forces and other units on the ground to mentor and train the Iraqis, NOT to take the fight to the enemy. All this is being done to have the lowest possible chances for casualties regardless of the long term cost.

    • Jo Flemings says: lists by country-

  • mike merlo says:

    good analysis on ISIS/ISIL fighting strength particularly on being cautiously conservative.

    As usual the Fumblelina’s in the Intelligence Community are too busy stumbling around in hallways, tracking their retirement accounts, putting on ‘airs’ & ‘designing’ new ways to heist tax payer dollars

  • Oberron says:

    Not just replace losses, but rotate units out of active fronts for retraining, reequipping, replenishment, and leave.

    Kurds must be onto something when they say IS has 200,000 fighters. YPG of course if we take their claims at face value say they killed 40,000+ IS fighters, SOHR and IS sources show 6,000 IS deaths fighting YPG on all fronts since 2013, with 1,000 or so in Kobane due to the US basically leveling the city over four months and even then it took a SAA counter-attack in Deir Ezzor that threatened to undo their siege lines that prompted an IS withdrawal.

    As things stand the Kurds are overrated non-entities, when IS decides to push it, they roll them over and Kurdish successes are the result of massive force concentrations backed by massive US or ISF or SAA support against a few hundred IS fighters at best while ISF or SAA are launching a bigger offensive elsewhere drawing off IS fighters. ISF/Militias and SAA forces are the bigger threat to IS and IS accordingly devote more resources to fighting and attriting them.

    This fits with IS revival of Rashidun Caliphate tactics updated for modern systems.

    Arab traditions of Muhammad have him state that a soldier should ride mounted to battle if possible and be able to use spear, bow, and sword in accord. Cavalry were the elite elements and fought as a mobile light cavalry reserve. A special corps known as the Champions was designed to kill enemy champions and seek out enemy commanders.

    Now lets get modern:

    1. Pickup trucks (insert model here) have replaced horses. This makes IS highly mobile and able to concentrate quickly.

    2. Machine-gunners are the spearmen who protect the ATGM archer teams who pave the way for the Riflemen swordsmen teams to assault in CQB and take ground.

    3. Pickups or AFVs are the mobile guard light cavalry who provide support and run down routers, and screen the army.

    4. The champions have been replaced by Assassination Teams who target enemy commanders in night ops, and the Itqishadi who use Suicide Bombers in the battlefield to take out enemy HQs.

    5. Artillery is updated siege weaponry

    6. Drones are an extension of spies.

    7. They have a good staff coordinating all these groups and utilize aggressive reconnaissances in force to find the weak spots, raid unsupported outposts and convoys, and deceive their opponents.

    8. An excellent logistic chain. IS fighters aren’t losing due to a lack of ammo or fuel. Their opponents either have very bad book keeping or rules lawyers who demand triplicate signatures before they let one bullet out of their armories even if IS is literally out the door shooting the place up. Otherwise I don’t understand why IS enemies are saying they lack ammo when they have plenty of it?

    9. Trust in local commanders. IS gives its commanders wide latitude to do the job assigned. If they succeed good, if not they find out why and adjust the tactics and strategy and if necessary relieve incompetents and promote those who get results.

    10. They are prepared for a long war and built their plans around it. They know the US will run out of money long before they run out of SVBIEDs and if the US can’t defeat at the Operational and Strategic level 40,000 leg mobile Taliban who are nowhere near as effective as IS forces, the US can’t defeat them either unless it radically changes it Strategy and finds Generals who can get results not PR victories but real results that force an enemy to surrender.

    In short, unless Americans wake up, hold the Government and Military accountable for lack of results from the current wars, and demand real leadership and results, we lose. Not only the wars, but our Nation because while we blew a few trillion dollars in Asia, we neglected our homeland’s infrastructure and if it goes, we go with it and IS wins by default.

    We got to get our leadership sorted out before we can get other regions sorted out.

    • mike merlo says:

      Nice assessment. You left 2 ‘Things’ out though: Intelligence & Communications.

      I’m not sure if I agree with the “Long War” assumption. I’m sure ISIS/ISIL has every reason to believe that they’re capable of matching, out maneuvering & out ‘thinking’ their opponents. To date ISIS/ISIL has proven themselves to be quite savvy, quite adept at improvising on the tactical level & their strategy has obviously proven ‘Sound’ so far. The fact that ISIS/ISIL has managed to accomplish what they have so far ‘tells me’ they are quite cognizant of their opponents capabilities & are more than aware that if that which opposes should bring the ‘Full Weight’ of their ‘Power’ to bear they would in a matter of months find themselves back or near where they started from. So IMO there is also a sense of urgency on the part of ISIS/ISIL to create an environment in their ‘Theater’ that negates or dispenses with a collection of scenarios that result in the kind of protracted Campaign(s) that would surely have them suffering the affects of attrition.

      The Iranians will definitely increase their presence on the ground by Tens of Thousands, the US & the Europeans will surely up their Air Support, last but not least Assad will forced to come to some sort of arrangement & the ‘Wild Card’ is how those parts of the Sunni Community that have the Ways & Means to influence events play their hand.

      • Oberron says:


        Intelligence and Communications was implied. Note I mentioned Spy Drones, Recon, and Staff co-ordination. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Any event the only thing IS lacks is effective air defense against fast jets.


        If a light weight is still standing against a heavy weight when the match is called, it won. Since the Taliban will rout ANA and regain control of Afghanistan and the US will have failed its objectives in destroying AQ, Taliban wins.

        Same as the NVA which defeated the US Militarily on the Ground and Air at the Operational Level and Strategic Level forcing Nixon to give up on his demands the NVA leave South Vietnam after it grabbed Da Nang and secured the mountain passes in 73. The NVA used those gains to finish the South off.

        VPAF by the way is the only Air Force to have trounced USAF, shooting down 18 of our birds for everyone of theirs we shot down. If we go purely by Air-to-Air combat, VPAF shot down two of our birds for every bird they lost. In WW2 by contrast US pilots shot down 7 Nazi Birds for every Bird they lost.

        • mike merlo says:

          @ Oberron

          I stand corrected

          @ jmajesty

          IMO as long as Afghanistan continues to receive material, weapons & misc., they will ‘weather’ this latest seasonal offensive

        • mike merlo says:

          @ Oberron

          do you remember where you got the data from about VPAF & USAF concerning the Vietnam War. That’s interesting stuff. I knew ‘we’ took a lot of hits from their Surface to Air Defense but I didn’t know the Air to Air confrontations were such

        • mike merlo says:

          @ Oberron

          I stand corrected on the Intelligence & Communication. Thanks for pointing that out

          • Kdc says:

            3600 fixed wing losses… Come on that is drastically inflated, And your source is Wikipedia. Please check your facts before posting. You also can’t claim those as VPAF kills as most of the pilots were Soviet and the Soviets also manned the air defense network in and around Hanoi. The brave men and women who fought and died in the Vietnam war had their hands tied by the bureaucratic donkeys in Washington. We Weren’t even allowed to hit the MiG sanctuaries in the neutral nations, let alone the ones around Hanoi and in the north. The U.S. public no longer has the stomach to win an engagement with any enemy no matter what the tactics involved. Focus on all aspects of the time period before you jump to conclusions based on false data.

      • Reader says:

        I will never understand your propensity to use quotes around random words and capitalize those that are not proper nouns.

        • mike merlo says:

          @ Reader

          to provide emphasis & singling out of words, phrases, terms etc., that otherwise would be misconstrued for having been used them out their proper context

    • Solo says:

      I think numbers eight and nine are the most key here.
      The key word is flexibility. ISIL is flexible, can operate where it chooses at a moments notice, and has no limits on the ROE. The US is the exact opposite of that; it’s one of the negatives of a democracy in that, generally, political considerations need to be taken into account. We cannot engage in a protracted ground war in Iraq again because the political climate simply won’t accommodate that.
      Until ISIL meets an adversary *on the ground* that is decently equipped, trained, and led, it will continue to hold Raqqah and al-Anbar in perpetude. Airstrikes will degrade their capabilities, but clearly the Iraqi Army is not organized to counter-attack (or even defend).

      • Jo Flemings says:

        @kdc- thanks for your comment! My father was a USAF Air Commando in Vietnam, and a variety of other places. And I know he and his blasted at least one MiG out of the sky on one run- (we had a recording of that flight on tape for years), but also helped blow to hell and back a whole lot of trucks on the HMT. I saw the staff car in the neighborhood only one time as a child at Seymour Johnson AFB- and he only lost a handful of personal friends that I remember or have heard of – thank God! Air warfare is rehashed regularly in the Air Commando Journal- a good read, and a great group, so every now and then the stories behind the statistics are printed.

      • Jo Flemings says:

        My money is on Iran.

    • Fred says:

      You blame the leadership. I blame the time.

      The insurgents have a very effective strategy that we haven’t been able to counter. If we leave, they take territory. If we fight them, they persist. We haven’t come up with a way to counter this strategy effectively.

      Until that happens- until we find a “tank” for their “trenches”- we won’t be able to win. It’s not the leadership’s fault that they haven’t been able to achieve that breakthrough. The strategy for defeating the jihadists doesn’t exist.

      • Jo Flemings says:

        It exists, it is just really ugly and probably not internationally legal for the US to engage in.

    • An Unhappy Camper says:

      Well done.

    • Tom says:

      Oberron, I agree with your military assessment however I think your argument doesn’t address the fundamental problem which is that we lack a sound political basis for an effective military campaign. Our military options are constrained by our ineffectual foreign policy. Our enemy in Iraq and Syria is not just IS. The IS may not even be our most dangerous enemy in the region. I reserve that for the Iranians and their proxies. Contrast Bill Roggio’s 19May article titled “US support for Iranian-backed Shiite militias ‘should not alarm us,’ General Allen says” with the article 10 days later “Iraqi Shiite militia commander threatens to attack US”. Until we can articulate a political way ahead that accounts for the danger posed by an Iranian-dominated victory, our military efforts will remain inefficient and as likely to produce a military victory for our enemies in IS as to produce a military victory for…our enemies, the Iranians.

  • A. Eagle says:

    We arm al Qaida affiliates, while providing air support to Iranian-backed operators responsible for hundreds of IED attacks on coalition forces.

    We bomb our enemies with pallets of shrinkwrapped hundred dollar bills.

    Our CIC thinks of ISIS as a JV team.

    We are, quite frankly, a model for future generations to study as a negative example.

    We are not wise, not honest, and not true. We deserve failure, and we are finding it everywhere we grow it.

    • Jo Flemings says:

      The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, but he might be useful to me in the moment.

  • shaneE says:

    Oberon that was very good info, I’m interested if you know sites similar to this that I can do research on the current islamic insurgencies everywhere. Ones that I don’t have to pay for haha. Thanks!

  • cato says:

    Wow, same over blown, unrealistic results were given for Vietnamese body counts in the 60’s and 70’s.

    • patricko says:

      I recall seeing those numbers on the nightly news and taking false comfort in them. A typical week would indicate US casualties around 500, and North Vietnam casualties of 5,000-6,000. I remember thinking they couldn’t stand those kinds of losses for long. Little did I know how much was complete BS.

  • Seipherd says:

    Wow, another fantasy proclamation from the same unicorn team that came up with unemployment rates that don’t include those not working, promises that Ocare will reduce cost of insurance, you can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor, etc, etc.

  • jmajesty says:

    Oberron, your argument is flawed. The problem is that Islamic terrorist do not surrender under any circumstances. Victory in war is usually attained when one of the sides surrenders. The Taliban don’t surrender no matter how many we kill. So everyone says “Well the US lost because the Taliban didn’t surrender”. Well they will never surrender. They want to die. You would have to kill every single one of them which is impossible. You can only hope to contain an Islamic insurgency, you cant “win” in a conventional sense. If you look at what the US did to Alqaeda in Iraq, they dismantled the insurgency about the best you possibly can but they did not “defeat it”. The enemy didn’t “surrender”. So people that are looking for conventional victories aren’t going to find them.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ jmajesty

    “So people that are looking for conventional victories aren’t going to find them.”
    I have the sneaking suspicion there are many “people” who will be victorious abiding the ‘coda’ you single out. Sisi of Egypt strikes me as one of those “people” not bound or restrained by Western Standards of what is or isn’t acceptable when waging War. I also ‘see’ the Israeli’s, Putin, Communist China, Saudi Arabia & few others yet to ‘surface’ predisposed to forego dated Civilized practices when dealing with savages or fighting for ones survival.

    • Michael R says:

      Great post, Mike Merlo. I certainly agree with you.

      I will also add that one VERY effective (but seldom used) tool to eradicate a seemingly boundless enemy is DISEASE. What nearly wiped out the Native Americans that populated much of North America? Disease. Likewise, disease could effectively wipe out millions upon millions of foes without one ever having to fire a single shot. In the event of a larger scale war between the West and islam, biological warfare certainly deserves a serious look.

      • mike merlo says:

        @ Michael R

        I’m a supporter of using Chemical/Biological Agents to disable/deter one’s adversary in non-lethal doses & if necessary if realities on the ground should dictate otherwise then up the dosage to lethal levels

        • Jo Flemings says:

          The usual destruction of war ruining infrastructure will propagate health problems all on its own. No human intervention of that type will be needed– drone the daylights out of every possible target before winter and a lot of people will die- the weak will definitely die. It’s an ugly given.

  • Rocco says:

    We stopped trying to win wars circa 1945. As LBJ said in Vietnam, we will let our “noses get bloodied” to show the world we care, but we won’t do what is necessary to win. Same old story. Pitiful.

  • John says:

    Maybe the figures are just bogus..after all “we don’t do body counts.”

  • Tom says:

    Well, I think it’s pretty evident the figure was pulled out of thin air and is in no way accurate. Reminds me of the air war in Kosovo, when it was being reported hundreds of Serb tanks and artillery were taken out. Then after the war it was found out that almost nothing was destroyed.

  • Dennis says:

    I’m stunned by people saying we can’t ‘win’ this war. Yes we can,we just have to commit to it. Wars are only won when you are more committed than your enemy. As we’ve seen in Iraq, you cannot train illiterate people to fight for you. Only American troops who are intelligent and trustworthy of their commanders are capable Of doing what needs to be done, with overwhelming force, backed by the FULL weight of the air force. B-52s should be used when the enemy is massed outside its targets. Why this isn’t being done should be questioned with the intention of prosecution. Innocent people are being slaughtered because this president doesn’t want his legacy soiled by a’ tough’ war.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Anthony Blinken. How fitting! So who is winkin’ and nod? My guess Mary Harf is winkin, and Biden is nod. There is some weighty discussion going on here but, I think this question deserves similar treatment. No?

  • James says:

    “US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken”; that says it all. What the heck does this guy know about casualty counts or even military matters? He’s not even part of the Pentagon. He belongs to the State Dept.

    As I’ve commented before on these boards, there is no way you can make even an approximate estimate of a casualty count from thousands of feet in the air.

    Why don’t they just tell the truth and say: “We have no idea of the casualty count from these air strikes.” Or, even better yet, just say, “You’ll have to ask ISIS for an answer to that question!”

    You can not win (or lose) wars in the air, they have to be won (or lost) on the ground. Sure, air support is critical, but to overly rely on it is the epitome of foolishness.

    What should really be a cause for justifiable consternation is what some of the Kurd’s are saying. If there are 200,000 daesh, 10,000 is only 5% of that number. Obviously, with the complicity of both A$$ad and the jihadist-apologist Erdogan, they’ve been able to swell their ranks. And, that’s most convenient for them, now isn’t it? Now, there problem has become our problem (as well as the legit Iraqi’s and Kurds).

  • gitsum says:

    Just keep pounding ’em, que’ sera’ sera’ …………….

  • Mike. says:

    Haven’t we gotten in trouble before counting dead enemy combatants?


Islamic state



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