The Cable

The 1 Percent Solution

One percent of ISIS-controlled territory retaken.


Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq had retaken 700 square kilometers from the so-called Islamic State. Turns out that amounts to about 1 percent of the territory currently under the Islamic State’s control in Iraq.

Seven months. Almost 2,000 airstrikes carried out by U.S. and coalition forces. An estimated 6,000 Islamic State fighters killed. A total $1.2 billion spent by the U.S. And all of this adds up to a 1 percent gain on the ground.

It’s worth noting the airstrikes have had other effects on the group, like destroying sources of oil revenue, taking out command and control nodes, and killing some of the Islamic State’s top commanders.

When Kerry introduced the new 700 kilometer statistic, he provided no context for it. But on Friday, reporters at the Pentagon wanted to know how big an area this represented for the Islamic State.

The militant group controls 55,000 square kilometers in Iraq, Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said. Meanwhile the Iraqi government controls roughly 77,000 square kilometers and 56,000 square kilometers are under the control of Kurdish forces.

The total 188,000 square kilometers does not cover all of Iraq, but represents the territory that populated and relevant to the Islamic State fight, Kirby said.

He noted that not every kilometer holds the same strategic significance.

“I recognize this is a small percentage of the total, but we’re only six to seven months into this thing,” Kirby said. “This is going to be a long struggle.”


Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

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