ISIS has grown larger than Kuwait’s army!

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed

To understand the magnitude of the problem on a global level, and not just on the Syrian and regional fronts, we must be aware of just how significant the CIA’s estimation was on the number of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. Less than two years ago, the CIA estimated their number at just a few hundreds, and a few months ago it estimated their number at 10,000. However, this week it admitted that ISIS forces have in a short period of time tripled to 30,000. Many governments across the world have also confirmed that many of their Muslim citizens have joined the group.

ISIS is now larger than the largest terrorist organization in the world. Its number is double the number of Kuwait’s army, and its money, arms and hiding places make it one of the richest states in the region. ISIS fighters also surpass the strength of the world’s armies as they possess the will to die. One ISIS fighter is equal to ten soldiers from a regular army. ISIS also includes hundreds of fighters who are willing to perform suicide attacks. ISIS can be a rival of the American army, which is the most trained and equipped in the world. The CIA’s estimation of the number of ISIS fighters is most likely based on information from the field, aerial surveillance, interrogating prisoners and gathering information from friendly security apparatuses.

The delusion of fighting ISIS

To think that the battle can be completed with aerial intervention or a military campaign in Iraq is a delusion or a simplification of a difficult situation which has grown with time and with negligence. We are confronting a fierce war in Syria and its surrounding countries and it will take us at least two years and probably even double this time to finalize it. All current preparation indicators show that the duration of fighting ISIS will be long especially in Syria. Iraq, as a state and army and considering its capabilities and local alliances, is capable of expelling and defeating ISIS as long as the central government in Baghdad is seriously dealing with the threat of the terrorist organization. However the war on ISIS in Syria is the most difficult on political, social and military levels.

To think that the battle can be completed with aerial intervention or a military campaign in Iraq is a delusion

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

As silence continues over the Syrian regime forces’ targeting of 70% of the country’s population – who are Sunnis –and as Lebanese Hezbollah militias and Iranian militias continue to fight alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces, ISIS will alter its stance and seek to be embraced by the Sunnis for protection. It will thus gain the sympathy of Sunnis across the world, just like the Taliban which sought refuge in its tribal regions in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s positive step of approving $500 million to train Free Syrian Army fighters to fight ISIS will lay the foundation of relations between the U.S. and the Syrian people. It may be the first step towards a long-awaited decision to support change in Syria. However, we are not counting on the $500 million allocated for training opposition fighters and we are not counting even on the $5 billion to fight ISIS. The $500 million will go to less than 3,000 opposition fighters, which is half the number of Hezbollah fighters fighting in Syria. The opposition army is even smaller when compared to the frightening army of ISIS.

What further complicates the situation is that training 3,000 Syrian opposition fighters is a very slow process that will require two years. Fighting ISIS cannot wait. This will might require drawing more manpower from the lists of thousands of Syrian army defectors who currently reside in refugee camps either inside or outside Syria to join the fight against ISIS as professional soldiers who will help fill the gap. It will also call for reviving efforts to a political solution as perhaps parties in support of Assad now realize its ally has sunk in a swamp and that it is time for a reconciliation government which Assad is not part of.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.



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