This recent image of ISIS (or “Islamic State”) is troubling for a couple of reasons. It’s not that they are about to mass execute a group of prisoners. They have been doing that all along to journalists, heretics (Shia), Yazidi, and others. What’s new here is that they are not afraid to show their faces and their uniforms are becoming standardized, suggesting a greater degree of both confidence and military professionalization.
One could argue it makes them easier to identify both on the battlefield (because of the uniforms) or individually (because we can see their faces). But there is also the concern that the more that they appear to represent a legitimate state, the greater the chance of drawing supporters. It also suggests that their leaders think the organization is secure enough (regardless of recent U.S. and allied airstrikes) to make a move like this.
One of the reasons the leaders of ISIS may feel more secure recently has to do with their phenomenal growth and the considerable support and sympathy they seem to garner. Over 15,000 foreign fighters have gone to join them in their wars in Iraq and Syria and social media suggests that many others who are unwilling to travel and fight on behalf of ISIS nevertheless are sympathetic to their goals. More significantly the fact that they have established control over so many territories, and the populations that live within them, has given them the opportunity to recruit and draft much higher numbers of soldiers and administrators for the budding state they are trying to establish. Indeed, while the CIA has estimated ISIS military strength at only 31,000, one Kurdish leader has estimated that (through such means) ISIS now controls an army of up to 200,000 soldiers.
From a recent article in The Independent- LINK
“Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said in an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday that “I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilise Arab young men in the territory they have taken.” He estimates that Isis rules a third of Iraq and a third of Syria with a population of between 10 and 12 million living in an area of 250,000 square kilometres, the same size as Great Britain. This gives the jihadis a large pool of potential recruits.”
Regardless of their total numbers, whatever they are, the fact that ISIS has been able to wage war so effectively on so many fronts, against the Iraqi army, the Syrian army, Syrian rebels and the Kurdish peshmerga, while also fending off the air attacks of the United States and its allies, suggests that its military strength may be much greater than has been assumed up to this point.
(H/T Doctrine Man)