The Islamic State has lost almost a quarter of its territory in 2016, according to a report by London based security and defence analysts IHS Markit.
- The group has given up 18,000 sq km (6,900 sq miles)
- Current territory is at 60,400 sq km
- This 23% loss is an increase on the 14% lost in 2015
- Raqqa still poses the toughest challenge
- Analysis predicts recapture of Mosul by Iraqi government forces by mid-2017
“The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” said Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under the control of the extremist group since 2014. While the Iraqi government forces have “made steady progress” in eastern districts, they are now meeting heavier resistance.
Mr Strack said: “We expect Iraqi government forces to recapture Mosul before the second half of the year.
“After Mosul, the Iraqi government will probably focus its attention on the remaining pocket of resistance around Hawija, which the jihadists are using as a base for their campaign of sustained terrorist attacks in Baghdad.”
Raqqa presents a different challenge
While this is encouraging, it seems as though Raqqa is proving a tougher obstacle. IS were also able to retake the city of Palmyra in December because the Syrian government was preoccupied at the time with Aleppo.
Raqqa is regarded as the capital of the Islamic State’s self declared caliphate. Taking Raqqa would be more difficult “given the complex political and military considerations involved”.
Action began in November when an operation to capture Raqqa was started by a US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF).
But progress had “stalled in the triangle between the Euphrates and the Balikh River. Raqqa represents the core of the Islamic State and they are unlikely to leave without a fight,” Mr Strack said. Capturing it would “probably take a major ground intervention by one of the main external players”.
Major theological dispute
Perhaps cracks are starting to form within the Islamic State. There are those who believe they should be following a more mainstream doctrine, and there are those still heavily tied to extremism.
The hope is that this could raise the risk of defections or even cause an internal break up.