“Estimates of the number of fighters in the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are extraordinarily wide-ranging. On the low end of things, CNN’s Barbara Starr recently reported that “U.S. intelligence estimates that ISIL has a total force of somewhere between 9,000 to 18,000 fighters.” In late 2014, the CIA’s estimate of ISIL’s numbers was slightly higher, as its analysts assessed that the group had between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters between its Iraq and Syria holdings.
Other estimates are far higher. Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has said that ISIL has more than50,000 fighters in Syria alone. The chief of the Russian General Staff recently said that Russia estimates ISIL to have “70,000 gunmen of various nationalities.” In late August of 2014, Baghdad-based security expert Hisham al-Hashimi claimed that ISIL’s total membership could be close to 100,000. By November, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, told Patrick Cockburn of The Independent that the CIA’s estimates were far too low, and that ISIL had at least 200,000 fighters.”
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