Washington: Islamic State terror group which once had 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries is now fighting for its survival and has lost control in many parts of Iraq and Syria, the US has said.
"When ISIS really arrived on the international scene back in 2014, they had 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries around the world pouring into Syria and Iraq. They controlled what was effectively a quasi-state," said Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the ISIS.
"They were able to mass and manoeuvre force all Iraq and Syria, taking entire cities, controlling millions under their domain," Brett said.
"Since that time, they have lost about 70,000 square kilometres of territory in Iraq and Syria; about 78% of the territory they used to hold in Iraq they can no longer operate in, and about 58% of the territory they used to hold in Syria they can no longer operate in," he told reporters on Friday.
Importantly, of all that territory that they have lost, they have not regained, he said.
"When US-led coalition supports elements on the ground to retake territory from ISIS, they have never been able to reclaim that territory," he added.
"We are going to make sure that continues," he said adding that almost five million people who had been living under ISIS are no longer living under them.
They have been liberated by coalition enabled operations on the ground, Brett said.
He said that in the last six months, the US-led international coalition has turned the table against ISIS.
"About six months ago, ISIS was planning major attacks in Raqqa. They were planning major attacks against US, against our partners, and they were doing it in Raqqa, using infrastructure of a major city. Today, in Raqqa, ISIS is fighting for every last block and trying to defend blocks that they are about to lose. They're fighting for their own survival. It is a fundamentally transformed situation," he said.
According to him, currently there are 2,000 ISIS fighters left in Raqqa, with 25,000 civilians on the ground.
"What's really happening, similar to what we saw in Mosul, but on a smaller scale, the ISIS fighters on the ground are using these civilians as their own shields, as their own hostages. They are using snipers to kill civilians who are trying to escape," he alleged.
"They're trying to put suicide bombers in columns of displaced people as they're trying to get out. The similar tactics we've seen from this barbaric terrorist organisation in other cities," he said.
Brett said the next phase of the ISIS campaign would be in Tal Afar.
"That will probably be the next battle. It will happen at a time of the choosing of the government of Iraq," he said.
"We estimate there's about 1,000 ISIS fighters or so in Tal Afar, among 20,000 to 40,000 civilians, so somewhat similar to Raqqa – a little bit smaller," he added.
"But it'll be very difficult. This has been a hub for ISIS for three years. It has been the home for many of their leaders. It has been a place where terrible atrocities were committed against not only Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Yezidis, in this terrible kind of fulcrum of ISIS atrocities.
Many of them happened in Tal Afar," he said.
"This will be very, very hard. The Iraqis are committed to liberating the people of Tal Afar, and we are committed to supporting them at a time of their choosing," Brett said.