Terrorism & Insurgency

Islamic State caliphate shrinks a further 12 per cent in 2016

11 July 2016

Islamic State performance assessment - January 2015 - July 2016. Credit: IHS

Over the past 18 months, the Islamic State has continued to loose territory at an increasing rate. In 2015, the Islamic State’s caliphate shrunk by 12,800 km2 to 78,000 km2, a net loss of 14 percent. In the first six months of 2016, that territory shrunk again by 12 percent. As of 4 July 2016, the Islamic State controls roughly 68,300 km2 in Iraq and Syria, which is roughly the size of Ireland or the US state of West Virginia.

Over the coming year, more towns and cities are likely to become isolated from the core Caliphate, as was the case in Ramadi and Fallujah, enabling the fragmentation and gradual defeat of the Islamic State as a conventional force.

The Islamic State is under increasing pressure in northern Syria, an area of vital ground, which the group cannot afford to lose if its governance project is to survive. This includes Raqqa, the seat of the group’s leadership and a model city for its governance project, and areas giving access to the Turkish border, via the logistics hubs of Manbij and al-Bab.

The likely capture of Manbij by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would have a major impact on the Islamic State's ability to supply Raqqa, and by extension the remainder of its territory, with new recruits and supplies, undermining its ability to govern.

As the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency. This is leading to an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.

The expansion of terrorist attacks outside the core caliphate helps the group claim that it is still gaining support and expanding its influence, despite setbacks in Iraq and Syria.

(303 words)