The fight against weakening ISIS enters 'Phase 2'

The coalition forces fighting Islamic State are ready to increase military action. Some analysts say more efforts toward reconstruction is now needed.

Khalid Mohammed/AP
Civilians wait to be checked at a checkpoint at the entrance to Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq. Thousands of civilians have returned to the city after Iraqi government forces retook the Anbar provincial capital from the Islamic State group earlier this year.

The number of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters is at its lowest since 2014, owing to extended efforts conducted by the US-led coalition forces, the US State Department announced Wednesday.

The group has suffered major setbacks since the United States joined forces with international partners as part of the Operation Tidal Wave II last October. In September 2014 the group had about 20,000 to 31,500 fighters, according to a CIA report. Since then, ISIS has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq, and 10 percent in Syria, according to the State Department. A poll published April 12 found that a vast number of young Arabs are rejecting ISIS and say it will ultimately fail.

The first phase of the efforts by the coalition forces is now over, and the US and its partners say the second phase, which is underway, will be even more destructive.

"Our enemy has been weakened, and we are now working to fracture," said Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS, The Hill reported.  "Phase one of the military campaign is complete, and we are now in phase two, which is to dismantle this enemy.

"We believe that by degrading them in phase one and then dismantling them in phase two, we believe that that will set us up for phase three which, of course, is the ultimate defeat of this enemy," he added.

The coalition forces plan to ramp up efforts in the key territories that are essential to Islamic State operations such as, Mosul. The Pentagon estimates that 75 percent of Mosul has been cleared of the group's control.

But as the coalition forces plan for their next wave of assaults, some analysts say that the concentration of military strikes may be counterproductive. The concern is that coalition forces are overspending on military efforts at the cost of reconstructing the towns that have been recaptured. As Newsweek reported, military efforts cost the Pentagon $6.5 billion since the efforts started, while the reconstruction efforts received a total of $20 million. Failure to reconstruct the vulnerable towns could make them easy prey for IS and other extremist groups to return, they say.

"We worry that if we don't move in this direction, and move quickly, the progress being made against ISIL may be undermined or lost," Lise Grande, the deputy UN official in Iraq told Reuters, appealing for $400 million from the US and its Western allies to be used in reconstructing key cities such Ramadi.

"The success of the campaign against ISIL in Iraq does depend upon political and economic progress as well," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday, Reuters reported. "Economically it's important that the destruction that's occurred be repaired and we're looking to help the Iraqis with that."

The challenge in Syria and Iraq has allowed the Islamic States to gain control in other areas of the Middle East. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in February, the group had seized control of a city between Sirte and Misrata, Libya, raising concerns that it would increasingly expand its reach and gain control of the oil rich fields.

US officials estimate that as the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria are decreasing, its numbers are surging in Libya, up to 5,000, where the group has seen an increased flow of foreign fighters.

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