Despite the great territorial defeats suffered by ISIS over the course of 2017 which led to the virtual destruction of its Levantine empire throughout Iraq and Syria, the remaining number of militants still based in the former country appears to run into the many thousands when various estimates are added up.
At the present time, Islamic State militants continue maintain an active presence in six areas of Syria, these are identified as:
- The Yarmouk Basin (Daraa province);
- Northwestern Syria (commonly referred to as the northeast Hama pocket; also extends into east Idlib and south Aleppo);
- Southern Damascus;
- Western Deir Ezzor, east Homs desert;
- Eastern bank of the middle Euphrates valley region; and
- Eastern Deir Ezzor desert near the Iraqi border.
The fact that all these areas are dislocated from each other is important for future operations against them and represents a major improvement over previous years whereby the terrorist group held contiguous swathes of territory across the country that were centered along the Euphrates valley.
At the same time, the sight of isolated ISIS pockets on a map can create a false sense of security as it overlooks the fact that many thousands of fighters are still present within them.
General estimates place the number of militants belonging to the Islamic State and affiliate militias throughout Syria as follows:
- The Yarmouk Basin – 1,500 to 2,000.
- Northwestern Syria – at least 1,000.
- Southern Damascus – 1,500 to 2,000 (some sources claim as high as 3,000).
- Western Deir Ezzor, east Homs desert – 200.
- Eastern bank of the middle Euphrates valley region – 3,000 to 4,000.
- Eastern Deir Ezzor desert near the Iraqi border – 1,000.
By this range of estimates it becomes apparent that anywhere between 7,700 to 11,200 Islamic State and Islamic State-affiliated terrorists remain active in Syria.
To this effect it is worth noting that whilst with non-ISIS militant groups often only one-third of their declared ‘paper strength’ represents actual front-line fighters (with the remainder consisting of armed locals who do not operate beyond their town or village and have only taken up arms to receive a paycheck by which they can feed their families), all Islamic State fighters (even so with individuals missing limbs as video evidence shows) are generally trained and mobilized for operations at the front.