To date, U.S. coalition military efforts have resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 Islamic State militants over the course of a two-year campaign, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday.
That figure is 10,000 troops higher than was reported in December, when U.S. officials said 50,000 of the extremist fighters had been killed. Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference near Washington, D.C., Army Gen. Raymond Thomas said that figure should signal to Americans how successful the fight has been.
"I'm not into morbid body counts, but that matters," Thomas said. "So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we're being pretty darn prolific right now."
What makes the number of militants killed difficult to put into context is the wide variance between estimates of how many Islamic State fighters there are to begin with. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated in 2014 that there were 100,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, while the Pentagon announced last summer that there were only 15,000 to 20,000 militants remaining in those countries.
Thomas pointed to major military gains on ISIS strongholds, including U.S. and partners "on the verge" of toppling the capital of the group's caliphate in Raqqa, Syria, and advances in efforts to take back Mosul, Iraq. Some 1,500 ISIS fighters were killed when coalition forces claimed a recent victory in Sirte, Libya, he said.
With these gains, he said, the military has the opportunity to "reset the country's awareness for the nature of the fight."
"We're making great progress against this enemy," Thomas said. "I don't know that that resonates in [the] United States about the nature of the threat and how aggressively we're getting after it, because I think that might assuage some of the concerns about how we are able to get after an enemy, a declared enemy of the United States."
That said, discussion of whether to employ more aggressive bombing campaigns is ongoing, he said.
"There's some recommendation in the offing for the administration to consider," he said. "We'll see which consideration they opt for."