Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi Correspondent for The New York Times, covering ISIS. NBC contributor. Previously, seven years in West Africa. Ex-AP bureau chief. Ex-refugee. Dec. 19, 2018 3 min read

1. Today, President Trump declared ISIS “defeated” in Syria and signaled that he might begin the drawdown of American troops stationed there. Follow along for a walk down memory lane, starting with the last time ISIS was declared vanquished.

2. The Islamic State, which went through several name changes, first implanted itself in Iraq 15 years ago. Enormously destructive at first, the tide began to change and by 2010, when American forces began to pull out, the group was estimated to be down to just 700 fighter:

3. The group was considered such a weakened force that in one 90-day stretch in 2010, the Pentagon was confident they had killed 34 of the group’s top 42 leaders. The State Department went so far as to *drop* the bounty on the head of the group’s chief from $5 million to $100,000

4. Who was that leader? None other than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. By 2014, his army had blitzkrieged across the region, seizing at its height 1/2 of Syria and 1/3rd of Iraq, an area the size of Great Britain. By 2016, the bounty on his head was at $25 million:  https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2016/12/17/politics/state-department-isis-al-baghdadi-reward/index.html 

5. My point is this: A force estimated to be no larger than 700 militants succeeded in rising from the ashes and launching what became the world’s largest, richest & most dangerous terrorist group. That was the *last* time our leaders declared this group defeated. What about now?

6. A few days ago, our Kurdish allies succeeded in penetrating the town of Hajin, the last city under ISIS control in Syria. The Kurds have been waging a battle to take this tiny town of 30,000 people since September. My sources on the ground said that they now hold 70% of Hajin.

7. With Hajin gone, ISIS has lost all but 1% of the enormous territory they once held. Looks like they’ve been defeated yeah? Sadly territorial control is only one metric by which analysts measure the strength of the group. And according to the other metrics, ISIS remains a force

8. In 2010, the last time the group was considered vanquished they had almost no land and 700 fighters. Today, they have an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters just in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon’s Inspector General:  http://www.dodig.mil/In-the-Spotlight/Article/1681464/lead-inspector-general-for-operation-inherent-resolve-i-quarterly-report-to-the/ 

9. Coalition officials say these numbers are inflated. Interestingly, two other reports by the UN and CSIS independently came up with roughly the same estimation. If these three reports are right, ISIS has 20 to 30 times the # of fighters it had last time it was declared defeated

10. Another metric analysts look at is the freqency of attacks. And a @CTCWP analysis of the number of attacks just in Iraq in the first 10 months of this year counted over 1,200 hits by ISIS. The group was declared “defeated” in Iraq (just like in Syria) by Prime Minister Abadi

11. Speaking of ISIS being defeated, I was recently in Iraq in the village where Baghdadi was born. It was considered too dangerous to go without a military escort. The soldiers were clearly freaked out & once we got there, they let us stay for only 10 mins, fearing an ambush

12. Western Coalition officials fighting ISIS in Syria whom I reached out to today described the president’s Tweet as “reckless,” “a disaster” and “catastrophic.” The big winner? ISIS, they say, which can now breathe a sigh of relief and begin rebuilding as it did in 2010

13. For more, please tune in to @AliVelshi on @MSNBC who took the time to speak to me about ISIS this afternoon. I’ll also be joining Rachel Maddow at around 9:20 pm EST tonight for a longer conversation:  https://www.msnbc.com/ali-velshi/watch/why-the-u-s-still-has-troops-in-syria-1402349635620 


You can follow @rcallimachi.



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