In the ongoing fight against ISIS, there is good news and bad news.
In Iraq, security forces loyal to Baghdad have recaptured some of the areas around the city of Ramadi, the capital of the key Anbar province. “The security situation in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, sharply deteriorated after ISIS seized Soufiya and the two other villages, Sjariyah and Albu-Ghanim, forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes,” CBS News revealed.
The news out of the besieged capital of the Kurdish-dominated Kirkuk Governorate, Kirkuk, is equally mixed. “Peshmerga forces fresh off of retaking areas south of Kirkuk from Islamic State forces over the past two days have repelled a series of counterattacks overnight,” the Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported on Monday. Those Kurdish gains occurred following a coordinated assault on that city over the weekend by ISIS forces, which resulted in the fall of some strategically important villages around the city.
In Baghdad, several civilians and police officers have been killed just this week amid a new spate of ISIS-linked bombings. An estimated 90,000 civilians displaced by the fighting in Anbar have begun to stream into the Iraqi capital, prompting fears that a humanitarian crisis is imminent.
And this is just the situation in Iraq. Last week, a deadly bombing in Afghanistan was linked by officials in Kabul to an ISIS affiliate. The Islamic State has reportedly targeted the Taliban and seeks to replace that insurgent force as the preeminent terrorist organization in the region. In Ethiopia, the murder of some members of that country’s ancient Christian population has ignited a series of protests by locals. In Syria, ISIS militants “have seized new territory on multiple fronts in recent days,” The New York Times reported earlier this month, “killing dozens of civilians in the central province of Hama, residents there said, and advancing on Wednesday into the chaotic Yarmouk district on the Southern edge of Damascus.” Yarmouk and the Palestinian refugee camp there later fell to ISIS fighters.
If the anti-ISIS coalition has enjoyed successes in Iraq and Syria, they have been qualified by the Sunni militia’s gains. According to the Pentagon, however, all the news from the front is good news. According to a report in The Daily Beast, a widely circulated Pentagon map showing the extent to which ISIS has been pushed back over the course of the campaign appears to deliberately hide the terrorist organization’s territorial gains.
“The Pentagon’s map assessing the so-called Islamic State’s strength has only two categories: territory held by ISIS currently, and territory lost by ISIS since coalition airstrikes began in August 2014,” The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reported. “The category that would illustrate American setbacks—where ISIS has actually gained territory since the coalition effort began—is not included.”
“Taken in isolation, the map definitely gives an impression that anti-ISIS efforts have succeeded in pushing the group back along a northern and north-eastern peripheries, but it fails in one huge respect—it fails to specifically identify territory gained by ISIS during the same period,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
The map also shows areas where ISIS is “dominant,” as opposed to the terrorist group’s operational reach—the areas where it can inflict violence.
Mak’s dispatch is deeply disturbing and well-reported. It is worth reading in its entirety. A Pentagon spokesman appeared to confirm to Mak that the graphic is potentially misleading, but that it was “not meant to be a detailed tactical map.” If, however, the graphic is designed to “explain the overall situation” in Iraq and Syria, it falls woefully short of that objective.