WASHINGTON – New intelligence assessments show that the number of Islamic State group fighters has dropped in Iraq and Syria but is rising in Libya, a senior U.S. defense official said Thursday.
According to the official, reports suggest there are 19,000 to 25,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, compared to an earlier range of 20,000 to more than 30,000. The newly declassified numbers back up recent comments from military commanders and other defense officials who have argued that the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are having an impact on Islamic State militants and causing them to lose ground in both countries.
The decrease in Iraq and Syria, however, may explain some of the increase of Islamic State in Libya from a couple thousand to about 5,000.
The official said that military operations in Iraq and Syria have killed Islamic State fighters and made it more difficult for them to move into the region or recruit others. As a result, some appear to be going into Libya, where wide swaths of territory are ungoverned.
The official also said that the intelligence community’s ability to accurately count the number of militants has improved, as the U.S. and its partners get more troops on the ground and surveillance in the skies.
The official was not authorized to discuss the numbers publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.