BAGHDAD, April 27 (UPI) -- A senior U.S. military official on Tuesday said Islamic State recruitment has decreased from up to 2,000 foreign fighters per month last year down to 200 a month as the Islamist militant group's financial structure has been decimated.
"When I first got here, we were seeing somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters entering the fight. Now that we've been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to around 200" in both Iraq and Syria, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten said from Baghdad during a teleconference. "We're actually seeing an increase in the desertion rates in these fighters. We're seeing a fracture in their morale. We're seeing their inability to pay."
Gersten said the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has focused on destroying banks, bulk cash facilities and oil refineries. In total, Gersten said estimates demonstrate the Islamic State has lost from $300 million to $800 million in the U.S.-coalition attacks.
"Their ability to keep track of their taxes ... and to oppress their people has been destroyed," Gersten said, adding that one airstrike operation destroyed a bulk cash facility that held an estimated $150 million.
Gersten said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, has been severely demoralized amid the coalition's efforts led on the ground in Iraq by the Iraqi security forces and in Syria by rebel groups, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.
"We're seeing the morale of the enemy beginning to deteriorate at a fairly increasing rate. As we went further out to the Euphrates River Valley, we saw Daesh trying to defect coming into playing themselves as refugees, playing themselves dressed as women. That's the kind of cowardice we're dealing with," Gersten said. "We are seeing ... that Daesh cannot pay their foreign fighters. They are trading vehicles now for pay. Some fighters aren't being paid at all is what we're seeing. We see them generally digging ... into the fabric of society and wrap themselves around civilians because that's the kind of cancer they are."