The Defense Department released a map last week showing territory where it is has pushed ISIS back, claiming that the terrorist group is “no longer able to operate freely in roughly 25 to 30 percent of populated areas of Iraqi territory where it once could.” This was touted as evidence of success by numerous news outlets.
Pushing ISIS back is clearly a good step. But the information from the Pentagon is, at best, misleading and incomplete, experts in the region and people on the ground tell The Daily Beast. They said the map misinforms the public about how effective the U.S.-led effort to beat back ISIS has actually been. The map released by the Pentagon excludes inconvenient facts in some parts, and obscures them in others.
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 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.
The document “was not meant to be a detailed tactical map-it is simply a graphic used to explain the overall situation,” the Pentagon spokesman said.
“A far more important facet of assessing our success or failure is measuring ISIS’s capacity to continue offensive operations and to reach beyond its lines of actual control. In that respect, I’d say ISIS has been very minimally challenged since August 2014 and its only this kind of measurement that will persuade local actors on the ground that ISIS is losing,” Lister told The Daily Beast.
The Defense Department, naturally, doesn’t agree. “ISIL’s own doctrine says it must gain and hold territory. This map shows they are not achieving their stated goals,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told The Daily Beast, using the government’s preferred acronym for the terror group.
But Warren seemed to acknowledge that the map isn’t entirely accurate.
The document “was not meant to be a detailed tactical map-it is simply a graphic used to explain the overall situation,” he said.
The entire battlefield of the ISIS war isn’t depicted, however. For some reason, the Pentagon’s ISIS map excludes the entire western side of Syria-which, coincidentally or not, is an area where ISIS has gained a significant foothold since the U.S.-led bombing effort began last year.
Read more at The Daily Beast.