According to new analysis, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group lost almost a quarter of its territory in 2016.
Security and defense analysts IHS Markit have reported that last year, the terrorist group gave up almost 18,000 sq km (6,900 sq miles), with its territory effectively reducing to some 60,400 sq km, just less than the size of the US state of Florida. According to IHS Markit, the 23% reduction in IS-held territory in 2016 followed on from a 14% loss in 2015.
IHS Market predicted the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi government forces by the middle of the year, nothing that the stronghold of Raqqa would be more difficult to recapture. What is also troubling is that IS retook the city of Palmyra in December 2016.
The report also highlighted what it said was a major theological dispute within IS, between those following mainstream doctrine and those taking a more radical interpretation, noting that this could raise the risk of defections or even cause an internal break-up.
A UK-based activist group, which is monitoring the conflict in Syria and recent territorial gains by Islamic State (IS), reported Friday that Iraqi pilots who have joined IS are now training IS members in Syria to fly three captured fighter jets.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), witnesses have reported seeing planes being flown around the Al-Jarrah military airport, which is located east of the contested city of Aleppo. Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the SOHR, disclosed Friday that IS militants were using Iraqi officers, who were pilots under ex-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, to train fighters in Syria. He added, “people saw the flights, they went up many times from the airport and they are flying in the skies outside the airport and coming back.”
While it remains unknown just how many Iraqi pilots have defected and what the trainees’ previous level of familiarity with flight is, it is known that IS has three planes in its possession, which they captured earlier on the ground in Aleppo and Raqqa.
If IS is indeed using Iraqi pilots to train its fighters, such a move could have a major impact on global security, and could see the militant group attempt to hijack planes in Europe and the United States. With officials in Europe already warning that a number of EU nationals have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside IS militants, the jihadist group could be training militants with EU passports on how to hijack planes and carryout terrorist attacks similar to 9/11.
Meanwhile Iraqi forces have launched an attack on IS militants stationed near Tikrit. The Iraqi government reported Friday that its troops have gained ground to the northern and western regions of Tikrit, effectively cutting an important IS supply route. The city is amongst those areas that were seized by IS in Syria and Iraq earlier this year.
Kurdish forces, backed by US-led air strikes, are continuing to fight the militants in the northern Syrian town of Kobane. On Friday, US-led warplanes targeted jihadists attacking Kobane as Pentagon officials disclosed that despite a recent wave of deadly bombings in Baghdad, there was no imminent threat to the capital city.
Pentagon officials announced Friday that despite recent advances made by the militant group to the west of Baghdad, IS was not poised for an assault on the capital city. The battle for the town of Kobane has been seen as a major test for the US-led coalition’s air campaign and whether it will be able to successfully push back the militant group.