Islamic State's Caliphate Shrinks by 14 Percent in 2015

12,800 km2 lost, now controls 78,000 km2 in Iraq and Syria; Syrian Kurds expand territory by 186 percent

Monday, December 21, 2015 12:59 pm EST


"This indicates that the Islamic State was overstretched, and also that holding Kurdish territory is considered to be of lesser importance than expelling the Syrian and Iraqi governments from traditionally Sunni lands"

LONDON, UK (21 December, 2015) – The Islamic State has consistently lost territory month-on-month throughout 2015, according to new analysis released today by IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), the leading global source of critical information and insight.

Using open source intelligence including social media and sources inside the countries, the team at IHS estimates that the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ shrunk by 12,800 km2 to 78,000 km2 between 1 January and 14 December 2015, a net loss of 14 percent.

The Islamic State’s losses in 2015 include large swathes of Syria’s northern border with Turkey, including the Tal Abyad border crossing, which was the group’s main access point to the Turkish border from their de-facto capital Raqqa.

“We had already seen a negative financial impact on the Islamic State due to the loss of control of the Tal Abyad border crossing prior to the recent intensification of airstrikes against the group’s oil production capacity,” said Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS, and lead analyst for the IHS Conflict Monitor.

“Other substantial losses in Iraq include the city of Tikrit, the fiercely contested Baiji refinery complex, and a stretch of the main highway between Raqqa and Mosul, which complicates the transfer of goods and fighters between the two largest IS-controlled cities,” Strack said.

Islamic State forces overstretched

“The Islamic State’s most significant gains in 2015 came from their advance into western Syria via Palmyra, and the capture of Ramadi’s city centre,” Strack said. Both were achieved in a near simultaneous offensive in May 2015, but came at the expense of losing northern Syria to the Kurds.


The Islamic State redeployed fighters from its northern frontline with the Kurds in order to launch the offensives in Palmyra and Ramadi. The remaining forces in Tal Abyad were so depleted that they had to be re-enforced with Hesba religious police units from Raqqa.

“This indicates that the Islamic State was overstretched, and also that holding Kurdish territory is considered to be of lesser importance than expelling the Syrian and Iraqi governments from traditionally Sunni lands,” Strack said.

“Geospatial analysis of our data shows that Islamic State activity outside areas it controls is heavily concentrated around Baghdad and Damascus, but much less so in Kurdish territory. The Kurds appear to be primarily an obstruction to the Islamic State, rather than an objective in themselves.”


Controlled Territory December 2015

Change since

January 2015

Iraqi Government

128,000 km2

+ 6%

Islamic State

78,000 km2

- 14%

Iraqi Kurds

61,300 km2

+ 2%

Syrian Government

30,000 km2

- 16%

Syrian Kurds

15,800 km2

+ 186%

Syrian Sunni rebels

13,000 km2

+ 1%

Source: IHS Conflict Monitor

“Syria’s Kurds are by far the biggest winners in 2015,” Strack said. Territory under their control expanded by 186 percent to 15,800 km2 in 2015. They have established control over nearly all of Syria’s traditionally Kurdish areas, and are the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are being nurtured to form a key part of the US ground campaign against the Islamic State in 2016.

The Syrian government has managed to reverse some of the territorial losses it suffered earlier in the year, due to Russian military intervention in September. But, according to the IHS Conflict Monitor report, the Syrian government controls an estimated 30,000 km2, which is an overall net loss of 16 percent for 2015.



About IHS (

IHS (NYSE: IHS) is the leading source of insight, analytics and expertise in critical areas that shape today’s business landscape. Businesses and governments in more than 150 countries around the globe rely on the comprehensive content, expert independent analysis and flexible delivery methods of IHS to make high-impact decisions and develop strategies with speed and confidence. IHS has been in business since 1959 and became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005. Headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, USA, IHS is committed to sustainable, profitable growth and employs about 8,800 people in 32 countries around the world.

About the IHS Conflict Monitor

The IHS Conflict Monitor records about 1,000 manually geocoded indicator events for Iraq and Syria every week from social media and other open sources, systematically rated for reliability. It is a weekly deliverable that includes analysis, data and maps.

The Conflict Monitor includes regular analysis of the data providing unparalleled insight into the structure, operations, strengths and vulnerabilities of the Islamic State. The dataset reaches back to January 2014, delivering unique data insights into the tactics, activity and capabilities of armed actors, as well as mapping the progression of the conflict in unprecedented detail.

IHS is a registered trademark of IHS Inc. All other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners. © 2015 IHS Inc. All rights reserved.



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Islamic State territorial gains and losses in 2015