LONDON, UK (22 December, 2015) – The Islamic State has consistently lost territory month-on-month throughout 2015, according to new analysis released today by IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), the leading global source of critical information and insight.
Using open source intelligence including social media and sources inside the countries, the team at IHS estimates that the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ shrunk by 12,800 km2 to 78,000 km2 between 1 January and 14 December 2015, a net loss of 14 percent.
The Islamic State’s losses in 2015 include large swathes of Syria’s northern border with Turkey, including the Tal Abyad border crossing, which was the group’s main access point to the Turkish border from their de-facto capital Raqqa.
“We had already seen a negative financial impact on the Islamic State due to the loss of control of the Tal Abyad border crossing prior to the recent intensification of airstrikes against the group’s oil production capacity,” said Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS, and lead analyst for the IHS Conflict Monitor.
“Other substantial losses in Iraq include the city of Tikrit, the fiercely contested Baiji refinery complex, and a stretch of the main highway between Raqqa and Mosul, which complicates the transfer of goods and fighters between the two largest IS-controlled cities,” Strack said.
Islamic State forces overstretched
“The Islamic State’s most significant gains in 2015 came from their advance into western Syria via Palmyra, and the capture of Ramadi’s city centre,” Strack said. Both were achieved in a near simultaneous offensive in May 2015, but came at the expense of losing northern Syria to the Kurds.
The Islamic State redeployed fighters from its northern frontline with the Kurds in order to launch the offensives in Palmyra and Ramadi. The remaining forces in Tal Abyad were so depleted that they had to be re-enforced with Hesba religious police units from Raqqa.
“This indicates that the Islamic State was overstretched, and also that holding Kurdish territory is considered to be of lesser importance than expelling the Syrian and Iraqi governments from traditionally Sunni lands,” Strack said.
“Geospatial analysis of our data shows that Islamic State activity outside areas it controls is heavily concentrated around Baghdad and Damascus, but much less so in Kurdish territory. The Kurds appear to be primarily an obstruction to the Islamic State, rather than an objective in themselves.”
“Syria’s Kurds are by far the biggest winners in 2015,” Strack said. Territory under their control expanded by 186 percent to 15,800 km2 in 2015. They have established control over nearly all of Syria’s traditionally Kurdish areas, and are the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are being nurtured to form a key part of the US ground campaign against the Islamic State in 2016.
The Syrian government has managed to reverse some of the territorial losses it suffered earlier in the year, due to Russian military intervention in September. But, according to the IHS Conflict Monitor report, the Syrian government controls an estimated 30,000 km2, which is an overall net loss of 16 percent for 2015.