In late 2014, ISIS was at the height of its power.
“They controlled what was effectively a quasi-state,” said Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, at a press conference. “They were able to mass and maneuver force all around Iraq and Syria, taking entire cities, controlling millions of people under their domain.”
In June 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of a “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, and declared himself the “caliph”.
One of the reasons for ISIS’s success was its broad and global appeal to foreign sympathizers. It preys on the minds of vulnerable and disaffected people around the world. It is a force of modern day barbarism that seeks nothing less than the complete subjugation, or destruction, of all civilized people. It seeks to roll back centuries of progress on the rights and liberties of all human beings.
Beginning in 2014 to date, about 40,000 foreign terrorist fighters from about 120 countries from around the world traveled into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.
To destroy the terrorist group, one of the areas the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS had to focus on, was to stop the influx of foreign terrorist fighters into Syria, and seal the borders.
“They were coming by the thousands and it’s down at least by 90 percent, and we are not finding ISIS fighters being able to leave Syria,” said Special Envoy McGurk.
This decline, due in part to significant battlefield losses and an increasing number of desertions from ISIS ranks as fighters become disillusioned or return home, is making it harder for ISIS to replenish its ranks and the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria has been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two and half years.
“Not too long ago, what they would do is plan a terrorist attack in Raqqa, they would train a unit – kind of a terrorist combat unit – they would then infiltrate out, they would hang out in Manbij, they would then infiltrate out and go conduct an attack such as in Paris or in the Brussels airport.”
The caliphate is what drew so many of these foreign fighters to join ISIS and what makes it a global network, said Special Envoy McGurk.
We think there are about 2,000 ISIS fighters left in Raqqa, and they will most likely die in Raqqa, as forces continue to liberate the city.