IS militants ‘lose 22%’ of territory

Members of the Syrian pro-government forces pose for a picture in a destroyed building in Salma, in Latakia province in January 2016, following its recapture from rebel fightersImage copyright
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A new analysis suggests so-called Islamic State militants have lost 22% of territory in Syria and Iraq over the past 14 months.

The data was compiled by research company IHS.

They estimate IS has lost 40% of its revenue – much of it from oil – after losing control of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Security sources have told BBC Newsnight that the flow of UK jihadists going to fight in Syria is also down.

The loss of territory in Syria, coupled with the fact that several high profile IS leaders have been killed or captured in recent months, is weakening the propaganda message, experts say.

Islamic State militants have lost 8% of territory since IHS last compiled its data less than three months ago.

New recruits are still leaving for Syria but at a slower pace. In total, just over 800 people have left the UK to join extremists in Syria, according to sources who have spoken to Newsnight – the vast majority to fight with so-called Islamic State.

Almost 100 have died there. About 350 are back in the UK.

Losing territory on the ground may also be choking-off funding.

Columb Strack, who leads the team responsible for producing the IHS Conflict Monitor maps, says losing control of border crossings with Turkey to the north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa has meant it is far harder to raise money by selling oil on the black market.

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When IS controlled the border, smugglers would travel south to buy oil and they would be able to take it out in tankers through the Turkish border. Now the Kurds control the border area, exporting the oil is far harder.

There were reports on Tuesday that a Chechen fighting in Syria, Omar al-Shishani, a top Islamic State commander died from injuries sustained in an American air strike. American Special Forces reportedly captured one of IS’s chemical weapons experts, Sleiman Daoud al-Afari last week.

More on this story on BBC Newsnight on 15 March at 22:30 GMT on BBC Two – or you can catch up afterwards on iPlayer (UK only)

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