- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Dan De LuceDan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. He joined FP in June 2015 after working as Pentagon correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Prior to that, Dan reported for the Guardian from Iran until he was expelled by the regime in 2004. After the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe, Dan worked as a freelance journalist in Prague. He later covered the war in former Yugoslavia for Reuters from 1993 to 1995 before serving as Sarajevo bureau chief after the conflict. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dan lives in Washington with his wife, journalist and author Caitriona Palmer, and his four children., C.K. HickeyC.K. Hickey is Foreign Policy’s resident interactives and features designer, but you can call him CSS Wizard for short. A film studies major from Los Angeles, C.K. flirted with television as an FX Networks production intern until technology and journalism wooed him away. Prior to FP, he honed his writing and coding skills at Salon, Current TV, KQED, and the Virginian-Pilot. C.K.’s interactive documentary, The Town: Reckoning at Mammoth Lakes, won a Digital Storymakers Award from the Atavist in 2013, and he won four Virginia Press Association awards for features he produced at the Pilot. C.K. has worked at FP since 2015. When not developing projects like Global Thinkers, he’s probably cooking, playing his piano, hiking, or watching old movies.
The Islamic State began 2015 in control of vast swaths of Syria and Iraq and at one point this summer controlled three of Iraq’s biggest cities. The terrorist group ends the year in far worse shape, with a U.S.-led air campaign hammering its fighters from the skies while Iraqi soldiers, Iranian paramilitary operatives, Shiite militias, Syrian rebels, and Kurdish Peshmerga battle them on the ground.
The map below shows where the Islamic State stands at year’s end. In Syria, the militant group managed to seize Palmyra in May but elsewhere has been forced to give up a sizable stretch of land along the Turkish border in the face of a concerted push by Kurdish fighters backed up by U.S.-led air power. And in Iraq, Baghdad’s slow-moving army has managed to score three significant victories, dislodging the Islamic State from Tikrit in March and Baiji in October, and this week wresting control of the pivotal western city of Ramadi back from the militants.
The fight for Ramadi is notable not just for the retaking of the city, but for how the Iraqi government did it. Baghdad managed to keep the powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias out of the fight, thereby removing a major point of friction with the local Sunni populace. That, combined with the use of well-trained troops backed by overwhelming American air power, will likely prove to be a model in the coming fights for Fallujah and Mosul.
Overall, a recent analysis by IHS Inc. calculates that during the course of 2015, the Islamic State lost 14 percent of the territory it controlled at the start of the year, while the Iraqi government increased its share by 6 percent and the Iraqi Kurds by 2 percent. The situation looks much different on the other side of the border, however, where the Syrian Kurds have emerged as the big winner, increasing their share of territory by 186 percent.
Photo credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images