Originally published on Middle East Monitor
By Middle East Monitor
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said yesterday that the majority of foreign non-Iraqi militants fighting for Daesh have evacuated Mosul, Iraq’s second city and Daesh’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Al-Abadi’s remarks came during a meeting he had with the governors of Iraq’s 18 provinces in the capital Baghdad, where he said that Daesh was being forced back in the fight for Mosul which had caused the extremist group to fall into infighting that lead to the majority of foreign fighters taking their families and leaving Mosul and Ninawa province altogether.
Though the Iraqi premier was unable to state exactly how many foreign fighters had left the fight for Mosul, he also made claims that his forces, backed by the US and Iran, had managed to kill “many” Daesh militants.
Again, Al-Abadi did not say exactly how many Daesh fighters had been killed in the battle for Mosul, now nearing its fifth month. On the other hand, Daesh have claimed to have killed over 6,500 Iraqi troops, allied Shia jihadists and Kurdish militants.
Daesh numbers unknown
Al-Abadi’s claims come despite the fact that the Soufan Group, a security intelligence consultancy, released a report in December 2015 on foreign fighters in both Iraq and Syria, estimating that between 27,000-31,000 people from 86 countries had travelled to join mainly Daesh, but other militant groups also.
No one knows precisely how many militants are fighting for Daesh. However, and a month after the United States began bombing them, the CIA estimated in September 2014 when Daesh was almost at the height of its power that the organisation had access to anything between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters across both Iraq and Syria.
A year later, Colonel Steve Warren, then-spokesman for the US-led coalition, confirmed that “we [the US] estimate there’s between 20,000 and 30,000 [Daesh] members operating inside both Iraq and Syria.”
Daesh’s ability to maintain high levels of manpower despite an extensive US bombing campaign that the Pentagon claimed killed around 20,000 militants when speaking to USA Today in late 2015.
With Daesh seemingly replacing its killed operatives with a steady influx of foreign fighters throughout 2015, and initial estimates of militants inside Mosul proper ranging between 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, it is unclear whether the Iraqi prime minister was exaggerating for public consumption or whether he had access to intelligence that he was not fully disclosing to the governors tasked with acting against the militant group and securing their provinces.
The Iraqi government mustered some 100,000 men to recapture Mosul from a Daesh force numbering at most 5,000 fighters. After almost four full months of fighting, the Iraqi military has failed to enter a single district of Daesh-held western Mosul.
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