Islamic State fighters have been defecting over the last month, military officials say, a sign that US-led bombing and other efforts that have killed 23,000 militants since 2014—3,000 since mid-October—are taking a toll on the group, USA Today reports. However, experts say, it's too early to know if the trend will continue. "Individual metrics like these can be deceptive," Brookings Institution military expert Michael O'Hanlon tells the paper, adding that a wait-and-see attitude is in order. And, according to Army Col. Steve Warren, ISIS still has 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq, and it maintains its grip on Mosul and Ramadi in Iraq, along with a large part of Syria.
Nonetheless, per USA Today, there are plenty of signs that the Islamic State is feeling the strain, including:
- There have been mass defections, such as the 90 militants who turned themselves over to Kurdish forces last week.
- Kurds in Syria and Iraq have had recent battlefield victories, capturing key spots along the Islamic State's supply line.
- Fewer militants are guarding ISIS checkpoints.
- Elite Islamic State fighters, once used as "shock troops," are being used to man checkpoints and other routine duties.
Meanwhile, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Meet the Press
on Sunday that anti-Islamic State efforts need to be stepped up. However, he says, that doesn't mean sending a large number of US troops to the Middle East—instead, he suggests the use of more advisers, special forces, and covert operations.