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Analysis: Major losses of territory in Syria, Iraq shows Islamic State in decline

By Doug G. Ware   |   March 16, 2016 at 6:56 PM
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LONDON, March 16 (UPI) -- The Islamic State militant group has lost more than 20 percent of its territory in the last three months -- potentially turning the tide in the war against the terror group, a data analysis showed Wednesday.

The group's geographic occupation was a focus in an open-source intelligence analysis released Wednesday by British publishing company Jane's Information Group.

According to the report, Islamic State militants lost 14 percent of their territory in the Middle East between Dec. 15 and Jan. 1 -- and an additional 8 percent during the two and-a-half months since.

Jane's noted key territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, as well as nominal gains in Syria. The net difference was a 22 percent loss, the analysis said.

"The Syrian government has also made gains in the West, now stands just 5km outside the ancient city of Palmyra, which was overrun by the jihadists in mid-2015," analysts wrote. "The Islamic State's last major territorial advance into Palmyra and Ramadi in June 2015 came at the expense of losing large swathes of territory in northern Syria."

Several contributing factors also coincided with some of the territory loss, the report said, including financial struggles owing partly due to tax increases and substantial salary cuts to Islamic State fighters.

U.S. and Russian military airstrikes against oil depots have further impacted the group's revenue.

"Although local smuggling channels still operate, the risk of detection, and therefore the associated cost have skyrocketed," the Jane's analysis continued.

The Islamic State's supposed decline may mark a significant turning point in its jihad against the West, although Jane's said its loss might very well be al Qaeda's gain.

"This plays into the hands of its main rival, al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra, which despite sharing the same ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate, has criticised the Islamic State for prematurely declaring it," the analysis said. "Isolation and further military defeats will make it harder for the Islamic State to attract new recruits to Syria from the pool of foreign jihadis."

Wednesday's report was written by Columb Strack, a senior analyst of Middle Eastern and North African affairs -- and based on open-source intelligence, which is publicly-available data.

Jane's specializes in the defense, security and aerospace industries.

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