WASHINGTON — The U.S.-led coalition has killed 50,000 Islamic State militants in the last two years in Iraq and Syria, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday, describing a conservative total that is a bit larger than what others have stated before.
U.S. leaders have routinely expressed reluctance to disclose specific numbers, and note that ISIS has been able to replace fighters rapidly, particularly early on.
In August, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said about 45,000 combatants have been taken off the battlefields.
Speaking to a small group of reporters Thursday, the military official said coalition airstrikes could be more aggressive in places like Mosul, where Iraqi troops are battling to retake the city, but civilian casualties are a risk.
The official would not detail any specific proposals for increasing the fight that may be under discussion with the Obama administration, but said there are some things under consideration, including sending additional resources. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Asked for details, the official said there are enough special operations forces currently deployed, but a key issue under discussion is what forces may be needed to help the Iraqi troops hold Mosul once Islamic State fighters are pushed out of the city.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, echoed suggestions that the ongoing military campaign is reducing the numbers and capabilities of the Islamic State group.
"Unfortunately were seeing younger fighters; perhaps adolescent age, rather than adults," Dorrian said.
He added that the vehicle-borne explosive devices are less sophisticated than they have been. He said that while earlier vehicle bombs were carried in armored vehicles, lately ISIS has been using regular vehicles.
"What that tells us is they're beginning to run out of those resources," said Dorrian, speaking via teleconference from Iraq. "It doesn't mean that it's not still an extraordinarily dangerous situation. They are not going to go quietly, but they are going to go."
Seven weeks into the operation to retake Mosul, Iraqi fighters have been pushing through the eastern section of the city. They have been hitting fierce resistance from Islamic State insurgents who took control of the city two years ago. Iraqi forces have had significant losses, particularly as they move deeper into the city.