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Report: Despite claim of 10K killed, Islamic State growing with dual threat plan

A New York Times report says that the Islamic State is gaining support by appealing to Sunnis in the Middle East and stamping out rival groups.

By Doug G. Ware
Report: Despite claim of 10K killed, Islamic State growing with dual threat plan
Despite a claim that airstrikes have killed 10,000 since August, the Islamic State is reportedly expanding behind a dual-threat strategy in the Middle East. Diplomat Antony Blinken on Wednesday told French radio that about 10,000 members of ISIS and ISIL have been killed since the U.S.-led airstrikes started nine months ago. It was a number that has not yet been verified, and a number that Defense officials say Blinken should not have disclosed to the public. File Photo by Andy Wong/UPI | License Photo

PALMYRA, Syria, June 4 (UPI) -- Despite a claim that U.S. and coalition airstrikes have killed 10,000 members of the Islamic State over the better part of the past year, the group is continuing its march forward -- gaining support across the Middle East behind a dual-threat strategy, the New York Times reported.

Diplomat Antony Blinken on Wednesday told French radio that about 10,000 members of ISIS and ISIL have been killed since the U.S.-led airstrikes started nine months ago. It was a number that has not yet been verified, and a number that Defense officials say Blinken should not have disclosed to the public.

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NBC News reported Wednesday that Defense officials said the "estimate of the number killed is correct, but was not intended for release."

However, the report said, those officials said the figure is only correct whereas all anti-IS forces are concerned -- meaning the United States has not killed 10,000 alone.

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However, even if that figure is accurate, Islamic State terrorists are still succeeding on a variety of fronts across the Middle East, largely through a specialized campaign of persuasion and violence, the Times reported. It's a two-pronged attack that has reportedly proven to be quite effective.

On the one side, the Times report said, the IS is gaining support of Sunni Muslims in the region.. On the other, the group keeps a close eye on just about any other rival pro-Sunni groups it sees as a threat to its superiority -- and stamps them out through violent means

That, some analysts say, is how the group has been able to grow and fight on in the face of the U.S.-led military might.

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"They are hijacking legitimate demands," political analyst and Syrian national Ibrahim Hamidi said of the Islamic State, also noting that tough international pressure against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and a political program to empower Sunnis are needed to neutralize the Islamic State's growth strategy.

"This is part of what makes them so dangerous. Defeating them needs a comprehensive approach," he said.

The current U.S. strategy against the IS, analysts like Hamidi believe, doesn't work because it often asks Sunnis to fight alongside Shiites or Shiite-backed governments like those in Iraq and Iran. Because so many don't find that prospect too attractive, Sunnis often see the Islamic State -- also known by the name Daesh in many parts of the region -- as the best option for guarding and advancing their interests.

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"The coalition is scratching the skin and making this Daesh come out," Hamidi said.

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Another problem, some experts say, is a conflict of priorities between the United States and the locals it recruits to fight the Islamic State.

Last month, the Pentagon said it has started a program to recruit Syrian rebels to fight ISIS that it hopes will result in the training and programming of 500 local fighters every year. The problem, critics say, is that the top priority for many of those recruits is fighting Assad's regime. And because that is not paramount for the Pentagon, a divide in the fighting force may emerge between American special forces and the recruits they train.

In Iraq, finding Sunnis to fight against the Islamic State is also difficult because so many do not believe that Iraq's Shiite-led government is a cause worth fighting for.

"There is no reconciliation between the government and the Sunnis," said Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan, a Sunni Muslim who has been loyal to Baghdad's government. "The government considers them as if they are all ISIS."

The highly complex nature of cultural differences in the region means that the Pentagon needs to fine tune its strategy to include more social and political solutions, critics say.

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"The reality on the ground is that ISIS is capturing territory, not losing ground," security consultant Laith Alkhouri told NBC News, adding that his firm's own monitoring of intelligence doesn't reflect a body count of 10,000.

Alkhouri said the U.S. government hasn't furnished any evidence to support Blinken's claim, such as incremental reports of ISIS deaths -- and noted that there is no U.S. military presence on the ground in Syria, which has traditionally been vital to gathering intelligence.

The White House, though, said there are other ways to determine casualty numbers -- like routine battle damage assessments, intelligence from the Iraqi military, and the use of "intelligence surveillance reconnaissance equipment."

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