The U.S. military on Thursday retreated from a top general’s claim this week that the number of foreign fighters joining Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has plummeted by as much as 90 percent.
Air Force Major General Peter Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence in the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, told reporters on Tuesday that the number of foreign fighters joining the group had fallen to 200 a month from between 1,500 and 2,000.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, told Reuters that the official estimate is higher than the one Gersten offered, although he did not provide a precise figure.
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On June 29, 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a speech from the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, announcing the formation of an Islamic caliphate, the newly proclaimed “Islamic State” did indeed have many of the hallmarks of an actual state.
It had borders, patrolled by its agents. It had a military, special-forces units, police, an intelligence apparatus, a press office, tax collectors, engineers, a stratified leadership, and both foreign and domestic policies. Unlike its predecessors Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had only been able to establish a state of mind among their followers, Baghdadi’s organization had managed to capture and rule actual territory, not just individual cities or neighborhoods.