The Islamic State has been taking advantage of Russian airstrikes in Syria, using the newfound air cover to maneuver and reposition fighters, according to a report released by IHS Janes’ Terrorism and Insurgency Center on Wednesday.
Despite losing ground in Iraq and being targeted by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, the extremist group managed to carry out 935 attacks between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 2015. Russian warplanes began flying their first sorties in the country during the last week of September. According to the report, the attacks numbers are roughly a five percent decrease from the prior quarter, but overall equated to a five percent increase than the preceding 12 months.
Despite the overall increase in attacks, the average fatalities per attack–approximately–three remained consistent with the past year. Additionally, the Islamic State’s attacks also “continued to track above the average recorded over the preceding 12 months.” Number of attacks, however, does not equate to the group’s ability to hold territory. The extremist group has lost ground in both northern Syria and Iraq, though it has retained the ability to mount effective counter-attacks and raids in both areas.
According to U.S. officials the Islamic State now has 25,000 fighters, down from a height of 35,000. In London last week, the spokesman for the U.S.-led operation against the Islamic State, Army Col. Steve Warren, told reporters that the Islamic State is now in a “defensive crouch” in Iraq and Syria.
Russia began its air campaign in Syria under a shroud of secrecy, funneling supplies and equipment into a Syrian airbase in Latakia province for more than a month before its first strike aircraft started operating. Russia’s initial stance was that its planes were targeting the Islamic State, but it quickly became obvious that the airstrikes were helping prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered forces. Russian planes, in conjunction with detachments of Russian artillery and troops, began pounding areas held by opposition forces and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. With their new found airpower, Syrian government forces slowly advanced.
In November, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner that was Moscow-bound and loaded with Russian tourists that had been vacationing at an Egyptian resort town in the Sinai Peninsula. All 217 aboard were killed. Following the attack, Russia launched a series of high profile bombing missions against the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa with long range bombers and sea-launched cruise missiles. Since then, some Russian strikes have struck near Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in an attempt to strike Islamic State oil production areas. Most of the Russian bombing runs, however, have been focused near the Syrian Arab Army’s frontlines.
This post has been corrected to reflect that the five percent increase in attacks was over the course of the entire year not the last quarter of 2015, and the headline has been changed to reflect the correction.