Are airstrikes successfully weakening ISIS?

The Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria has drawn an estimated 38,000 recruits from all over the world, including the U.S. But the Pentagon recently said recruits have dropped from 2,000 a month to 500, in part because of U.S.-led airstrikes. Joining Soledad O’Brien to discuss is national security adviser and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Doug Ollivant.

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    The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has drawn recruits from all over the world, so-called foreign fighters.

    The U.S. director of national intelligence has put the number at 38,000, including an estimated 250 recruits from the United States. But, this week, the Pentagon said the pace of ISIS recruiting has dropped 75 percent, from 2,000 fighters a month to 500.

    One reason, according to the military, consistent U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS positions.

    Joining me now from Washington to discuss this is Doug Ollivant, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and now a partner at the global management consulting firm Mantid International.

    Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with me.

    How accurate do you think these numbers are?


    They're probably a good guesstimate. It wouldn't surprise if there's a 10 percent tolerance either way, but I think we have a pretty good feel for how large the flow is.

    And, certainly, we can see it's down. So, it may not be 25 percent, but it is significantly fewer than a year or two ago.


    And does this give you any insight into exactly what is happening inside of ISIS?


    Several things are happening.

    First, as the military points out, they are killing a whole bunch of them. But ISIS has lost significant amounts territory inside Iraq and Syria. And, perhaps just as importantly, they have lost a lot of their money.

    We have actually physically blown up large stocks that they had in banks and houses in Mosul. And, as we know, we have also cut off their ability to smuggle out the oil. So, they no longer have the appearance of winning in Iraq and Syria. They have lost major cities. And they can't pay large salaries.


    Do you think this indicates, then, that there is going to be a movement from this idea of creating a caliphate in Syria and Iraq to having lone wolves, if you will, stay where they are?


    We are hearing some reports, that actually now is what ISIL is telling people that they're talking to on social media: Don't come here. Stay home.

    I think that's making lemonade out of lemons. They can't pay them, so, instead, they tell them to stay home. But that's obviously something we're just as concerned about, if not more so, are these radical jihadists in their home countries doing these lone wolf or very small group attacks.


    So, ultimately, does this drop lead to people outside of ISIS obviously feeling safer?

    I mean, if you have a number of lone wolves who are operating — and I would think some of these attacks are relatively low-cost and maybe not even organized by a network — does the end goal feel like we're safer?


    Well, no.

    If — this is good news for the fight in Iraq and Syria. This is bad news particularly for Europe, where a much larger percentage of these foreign fighters come from, and, for that matter, the other countries in the region, the Saudis, the Tunisians being the two largest countries providing foreign fighters.

    If their radicals stay home, you have to wonder what they're going to do there.


    Doug Ollivant, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.


    My pleasure, Soledad.


    You bet.

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