ISIS has lost 98% of its territory, mostly since Trump took office
The Islamic State's self-described "caliphate" has lost 98% of its conquered territory in recent years, with more than half of its territory in Iraq and Syria lost since Donald Trump took office.
There are now less than 1,000 ISIS fighters thinly spread out over Syria, the result of a systematic and sustained bombing campaign since January with a coordinated ground effort involving Arab militias and Kurdish fighters.
The massive gains come after years of "onerous" rules, when critics say the Obama administration "micromanaged" the war and shunned a more intensive air strategy that could have ended the conflict much sooner.
"The rules of engagement under the Obama administration were onerous. I mean[,] what are we doing having individual target determination being conducted in the White House, which in some cases adds weeks and weeks[?]" said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence. "The limitations that were put on actually resulted in greater civilian casualties." ...
The latest American intelligence assessment says fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters now remain in Iraq and Syria, down from a peak of nearly 45,000 just two years ago. U.S. officials credit nearly 30,000 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and regional partners on the ground for killing more than 70,000 jihadists. Meanwhile, only a few thousand have returned home.
Members of the Obama administration are denying the notion that they didn't prosecute the war vigorously enough:
But the senior director for counterterrorism in former President Barack Obama's National Security Council pushed back on any criticism [that] the former president didn't do enough to defeat ISIS.
"This was a top priority from the early days of ISIS gaining the type of territorial safe haven in particular, there was recognition that safe havens for terrorist groups can mean terrorist plots that extend – not just into the region – but to Europe and conceivably into the United States," said Joshua Geltzer, author of "US Counter-Terrorism Strategy and al-Qaeda: Signalling and the Terrorist World-View," now a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School.
What made the Obama administration's efforts at destroying ISIS so feeble was its micromanaging of the bombing campaign:
Deptula thinks the ISIS fight would have ended much sooner if then-[p]resident Obama had given his military commander in the field more authority. He compared President Obama's actions to President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War.
"Obama micromanaged the war," Deptula said. "We could have accomplished our objectives through the use of overwhelming air power in three months[,] not in three years."
Deptula said ISIS-controlled oil supplies weren't targeted for 15 months beginning in 2014, giving the terror group $800 million in much needed revenue to plot attacks and enslave millions of innocents.
It wasn't just Trump giving field commanders more authority that led to the defeat of the terrorists. There was far more cooperation with U.S.-backed ground forces, the kind of close air support in urban areas that allowed the ground troops to advance. This led to more civilian casualties, which is something Obama wanted to avoid. The terrorists used civilians as human shields, and while the more intensive prosecution of the war led to more innocents being killed, it also flushed the terrorists out of their hiding places.
The Obama administration's efforts to fight ISIS had its own share of civilian casualties. But it eventually became obvious that there was not the will to go after the terrorists and destroy them. Instead, Obama was content with giving the appearance of fighting ISIS while leaving its defeat to his successor.
Trump should be given credit for fulfilling his campaign promise to intensify the military effort against ISIS. It has paid off in a big way, with ISIS expelled from Iraq and massively weakened in Syria.