ISIS Is at Least Twice as Big as We First Thought It Was

Shiite militiamen north of Baghdad, Iraq, hold the flag of the Islamic State group they captured. Shiite militiamen north of Baghdad, Iraq, hold the flag of the Islamic State group they captured. AP

As the United States prepares to step up its campaign against ISIS, a new CIA report shows the radical Sunni group has at least double (and possibly triple) the number of fighters in its ranks than had previously been speculated.

The new CIA intelligence assessment was released late on Thursday, based on information culled from various reports across the summer. As the AP reports, the new assessment "estimates that the Islamic State group can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a previous figure of 10,000."

Writing in the New Republic, Graeme Wood compellingly classifies the three different types of ISIS fighters, including a cooperative of Western poseurs (Psychopaths) and committed zealots (True Believers). If there's any silver lining to be had, it's that what Wood calls the largest contingent of ISIS fighters doesn't seem particularly committed to the cause.

Call them the Sunni Pragmatists. These people include Iraqi tribal sheikhs, whose allegiance to ISIS originates not in a cultish death wish but in a desire to win security and well-being, and who seem to be using the Psychopaths and the True Believers as convenient allies. From ISIS, the Pragmatists get a way to punish Baghdad for its long neglect of Sunni regions."

Nevertheless, that new number is certainly alarming.

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