I.S. RUN­NING OUT OF FIGHT­ERS

45,000 killed by US-led coali­tion air strikes up to Au­gust last year

New Straits Times - - World -

THE United States-led coali­tion ef­fort against Is­lamic State (IS) is killing the group’s fight­ers more quickly than it can re­place them, a se­nior Bri­tish gen­eral said on Tues­day, with more than 45,000 killed by coali­tion air strikes up to Au­gust last year.

Ma­jor-Gen­eral Ru­pert Jones, deputy com­man­der for the Com­bined Joint Task Force coali­tion said: “The en­emy can­not sus­tain the at­tri­tion that they are suf­fer­ing and there­fore they lose ter­rain, they lose bat­tles.”

Last month, the top Amer­i­can com­man­der in Iraq, Lieu­tenan­tGen­eral Stephen Townsend, said: “The in­evitabil­ity of their de­struc­tion just be­comes re­ally a mat­ter of time,” he said, adding that the group’s lead­er­ship was now fo­cused on lit­tle more than sur­vival.

The coali­tion es­ti­mates that the num­ber of IS fight­ers in Iraq and Syria is at its low­est level in more than 2.5 years, with the group hav­ing lost 62 per cent of the ter­ri­tory it once con­trolled in Iraq and 30 per cent in Syria.

Jones said the num­ber of for­eign fight­ers trav­el­ling to join IS had dropped by be­tween 75 and 90 per cent, both due to it be­ing harder to get in and out of Iraq and Syria, and be­cause the re­al­ity of do­ing so had been ex­posed as un­ap­peal­ing.

“The big idea that IS was putting out there, the kind of glam­our... has been ex­posed for what it is. It is a lie,” he said.

“They recog­nise that what you are ac­tu­ally sign­ing your­self up to is go­ing to live un­der a bru­tal regime.”

He said IS had re­fo­cused its at­ten­tion on rad­i­cal­is­ing peo­ple out­side Iraq and Syria to carry out at­tacks lo­cally.

The coali­tion es­ti­mates that IS ac­tiv­ity on Twit­ter has fallen by 45 per cent since 2014, with 360,000 of the group’s Twit­ter ac­counts sus­pended, and the life­span of an IS-linked so­cial me­dia ac­count re­duced to less than two days.

Yes­ter­day, US-backed Iraqi army units took con­trol of the last ma­jor road out of western Mo­sul, trap­ping the mil­i­tants in a dwin­dling area within the city.

The army’s 9th Ar­moured Di­vi­sion was within 1km of Mo­sul’s Syria Gate, the north­west­ern en­trance of the city, a gen­eral from the unit said by tele­phone.

“We ef­fec­tively con­trol the road, it is in our sight,” he said.

The elite Iraqi Counter-Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice is try­ing to per­suade men flee­ing the fight­ing in Mo­sul to ad­mit any af­fil­i­a­tion with IS and turn in col­lab­o­ra­tors.

“They made you grow your beards, they banned cig­a­rettes, they con­trolled you,” said Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Ab­dul­lah Qassem Ab­dul­lah to around 70 men, sit­ting in rows in the dust in a vil­lage south of Mo­sul.

“Is­lam... is about for­give­ness, not about killing and fight­ing. So all of you know what the dif­fer­ence is be­tween IS and Is­lam.”

An­other of­fi­cer, who de­clined to give his name, ad­dresses the group: “If you know some­one who pledged al­le­giance or who worked with IS, don’t be afraid. IS is fin­ished.”

He beck­ons a young man in a track­suit to stand up and come over.

“Look at this man, he came and he ad­mit­ted to me that he pledged al­le­giance, and he was with them for 10 days, and noth­ing will hap­pen to him,” he said, his arms around the shoul­ders of the young man, whose ex­pres­sion is a mix­ture of em­bar­rass­ment and fear.

The of­fi­cer keeps up his pitch, warn­ing that an ad­mis­sion or dis­cov­ery of guilt later will not be so kindly re­ceived.

And then a man stands up, clutch­ing a sack of be­long­ings, and walks out of the crowd.

“I pledged al­le­giance, I worked with them in Qay­yarah,” he said, re­fer­ring to an area south of Mo­sul.

“But I swear it was only for 23 days, then I had a break and I left and never went back to them.”

Then an­other joins him, dressed in a hat and a leather jacket.

And a third fol­lows, wear­ing a track­suit and avoid­ing eye con­tact as he makes his way up to the of­fi­cer at the front, who smiles.

“You see, noth­ing will hap­pen. You pledged al­le­giance, you worked with them for a week, a month, three months. It’s noth­ing. What we need is in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

“We need to fin­ish with IS, they are like a can­cer. If it per­sists, it will con­sume the body.”

REUTERS PICS

Smoke ris­ing af­ter an air strike in the dis­trict of al-Mamoun in Mo­sul, Iraq, yes­ter­day.

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