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ISW's #ISIS sanctuary map provides an unclassified assessment of the geographic contours of ISIS's campaign. We resumed publishing the map in late 2018 w/ a new baseline of the ISIS "remnants".

This thread provides methodological notes about what the map is & isn't. 1/
ISW's collection & analysis during the counter-#ISIS campaign indicated that DoD's assessments were overestimating the effect of U.S.-led operations on ISIS's military capability. In early 2018, we @TheStudyofWar began a rigorous process of evaluating the actual impact. 2/
Example: in Dec 2017 @CJTFOIR estimated there were only < 3K #ISIS fighters left in #Iraq & #Syria. 1 year later, they estimated 2K ISIS fighters defended a few km of terrain in SE Syria. Meanwhile, the campaign behind front lines was much broader than 1K fighters could wage 3/
A @DoD_IG report in Aug 2018 gave a more realistic but still vague estimate that 20-30K #ISIS fighters remained in #Iraq & #Syria, the same # the CIA estimated in 2014. It tells us there are a lot of terrorists left but says little about the nature or trajectory of the threat. 4/
These estimates also seem not to account for women & indoctrinated children within #ISIS who often perform roles that support the group's military campaign. The outflow of this #ISIS population from Baghouz on the scale of tens of thousands should be a serious wake up call 5/
Clearly, #'s arent the best way to understand #ISIS's capabilities. We @TheStudyofWar resumed mapping ISIS sanctuary internally in early 2018 to understand the campaign that was clearly waged by more than 1K guys. We published in Oct 2018 to contextualize the 20-30K estimate. 6/
Our Oct 2018 assessment was conservative, erring toward underestimation to account for confirmation bias. Even so, it showed the potential for a robust insurgency. It was broadly consistent with what we might expect 20-30K to be doing in the initial phase of a reconstitution 7/
Our #ISIS sanctuary map is a living assessment that depicts how ISIS is using terrain. It is the output of years of granular analysis of #ISIS & its predecessors. It certainly has errors, because all assessments require judgement calls. We refine it daily as new info emerges. 8/
The biggest question we face while analyzing the campaign of #ISIS "remnants" across #Iraq & #Syria is: to what extent is any of this activity coordinated? Can we even call it #ISIS, or is it isolated cells? We assess that we can. 9/
The campaign of attacks & logistics activity that we observe across #Iraq & #Syria is evolving in a way that is consistent with a designed & coordinated reconstitution. We published a partial assessment of the Iraqi side of this campaign in March iswresearch.blogspot.com/2019/03/isis-r… 10/
The second major question is whether some of these #ISIS "remnants" are actually outside of #ISIS control. They could be local cells with no connection to ISIS leaders or could be forces from other groups such as #AlQaeda or re-emerging Ba'athist groups. 11/
We are constantly looking for indicators to validate the possibility that another group such as #AlQaeda are (re)emerging in Iraq. I think its very likely that we already have some overlapping activity in certain areas. Our map depicts the campaign we attribute to #ISIS only. 12/
We published initial warnings in Nov 2016 and Feb 2017 that #AlQaeda and/or other insurgents could re-emerge after #ISIS. We framed initial indicators to watch for and areas of interest. Expect updates. 13/

Nov 2016: understandingwar.org/backgrounder/a…

Feb 2017: understandingwar.org/backgrounder/w…
Our April #ISIS sanctuary map includes clear call outs & discussion of what is new & what we've refined since the previous map based on new information. We'll continue to provide these details in future maps. We also compared the DIA map & explained the differences 14/
A key indicator is the return of VBIED cells, a high end capability that was a signature of #AQI’s 2011-2014 resurgence. Now returning again in #Iraq & #Syria

ISW detailed our methodology for assessing a VBIED versus other kinds of IEDs in 2013. 15/

As I noted, #ISIS claims arent the right threshold to use. #ISIS doesn’t always claim VBIEDs & neither did #AQI

It is also wrong to look only for the major armored VBIEDs ISIS used defensively. Attack vs defense create different tactical requirements 16/
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