Bitter pill to swallow: ISIS’s fighters figure is hugely underestimated or the group is mythological

By Zaher Mahruqi

Whichever label one chooses, ISIL, ISIS or the Islamic State, the “group’s” fighters are gradually but surely proving to be the stuff of legend. What they accomplish and the swiftness with which they operate is mindboggling.

Many estimates put the figure of ISIS fighters at between 30 and 50 thousand.  If that is the case then ISIS is simply able to do what no other fighting force has ever been able to do in the history of mankind.  With those figures and if logic dictates, the group should have been defeated by now.

One year on since a concerted and wide opposition began, still continuing to overrun villages, towns and even large cities whilst regular armies flee for their lives would generally have required a much larger fighting force.

To police and maintain law and order to the towns and cities under its control with its large populations, fight multiple enemies (Syrian Government, Nusra Front, the so called moderate Syrian opposition, Shia Militias, Swahawaat, the Iraqi army and the international coalition) at the same time and still manage to be on the offensive and expanding definitely requires a bigger force than the estimates being propagated.

But if those estimates are near accurate, the more logical explanation for ISIS’s successes would be a bitter pill to swallow on the part of ISIS’s opponents.  It can only mean that once ISIS takes control of a city, the populations there relatively quickly accept their governing style and support them as policing unwilling millions of people and remaining on the offensive across Iraq and Syria would by necessity require a much larger force.

Of course it is easier to suppose that they are able to control by inflicting fear on those they rule.  The problem with that argument is that the cities and towns that ISIS has overtaken have hundreds of thousands of men who would not allow being brutalized and undignified for a lengthy period of time by very thinly-spread policing as the numbers suggest.

If that explanation is not acceptable or is illogical then we have to accept the fact that ISIS fighters are in their hundreds of thousands; I personally put the figure at no less than a hundred thousand. That would be an even bitterer pill to swallow but would make more sense.

To summarize, either the Islamic State is winning the narrative especially in areas it controls and as such manages to win hearts and minds and thus faces minor or no resistance and even able to recruit from the same populations or the estimates of its fighting force is significantly underestimated.  If those two explanations do not represent reality then, whether we like it or not, ISIS is a legend in the making.

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Zaher Mahruqi

Zaher Mahruqi follows world events, and seeks to shed light on the Arab and Muslim perspectives on regional and world events.

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