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Analysts: Gains against ISIS ‘not yet enough’

The territory held by ISIS has enabled it to build up revenues through oil and taxes, provided it a base to launch attacks on Baghdad

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US President Barack Obama and some administration officials have hailed recent military gains against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but other US officials and outside experts warn that the US-backed air and ground campaign is far from eradicating the radical Islamic group, and could even backfire.

While ISIS’ defeats in Iraq and Syria have erased its image of invincibility, they threaten to give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of disaffected Sunni Muslims because Shi’ite and Kurdish fighters are a major part of the campaign, some US intelligence officials argue.

A second danger, some US officials said, is that as the group loses ground in the Iraqi city of Falluja and elsewhere, it will turn increasingly to less conventional military tactics and to directing and inspiring more attacks against “soft” targets in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

One US intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that in response to losing Falluja and other cities the group likely would turn more to guerrilla tactics to disrupt efforts to restore government services.

“We can expect ISIL to harass local forces that are holding cities it previously controlled, thereby drawing out battles into protracted campaigns,” he said.

The territory held by ISIS has enabled it to build up revenues through oil and taxes, provided it a base to launch attacks on Baghdad, and acted as a recruiting tool for foreign fighters drawn to the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate.

President Barack Obama said on June 14 - two days after a gunman pledging allegiance to ISIS killed 49 people in Orlando - that the militant group was losing “the money that is its lifeblood” as it continues to lose territory.

Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, told a White House briefing on June 10 that the group has lost half the territory it had seized in Iraq, about 20 percent of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria, and at least 30 percent of its oil production, which accounts for half its revenue.

But ISIS fighters in Iraq are already showing signs of adapting a guerrilla war-style strategy, Seth Jones, an analyst with the RAND Corp, told Reuters.

“It looks like the areas that the ISIS has lost, they are generally abandoning, and that would mean preparing to fight another day,” he said.

Despite the progress against ISIS on the battlefield and in the financial realm, CIA Director John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week: “Our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.”

“The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly,” he said.