The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has tripled its estimate of the number of militants fighting for the ISIL terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
The CIA had initially estimated that ISIL had as many as10, 000 fighters but revised it upward to anywhere between 20,000 to 31,500 militants, according to a CIA spokesman.
“This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity and additional intelligence,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said on Thursday, according to CNN.
The new estimate came a day after US President Barack Obama laid out his strategy to “dismantle and ultimately destroy” ISIL, including expanding airstrikes from Iraq into Syria where ISIL is headquartered.
The United States has begun conducting surveillance flights over Syria to gather intelligence on areas under ISIL control.
More than 15,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 countries have gone to Syria, a CIA source told CNN on Thursday. 2,000 of those are believed to be Westerners.
As part of the Obama administration’s strategy to build a coalition against ISIL, Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with new Iraqi authorities in Baghdad on Wednesday before traveling to Saudi Arabia for talks with Arab leaders on Thursday.
The Pentagon said Thursday that “armed and manned” US warplanes will soon start flying out of a base in northern Iraq to strike ISIL hideouts.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to an American request to provide a base to train what Washington and its allies call “moderate” elements within the Syrian insurgency.
However, Turkey said it would not allow a military coalition to use its air bases to launch attacks on ISIL hideouts in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
The United States and some of its regional allies, chief among them Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been supporting militant groups in Syria to fight the government there.
Last year, ISIL exploited the chaos of the Syrian conflict to capture large swaths of territory there before sweeping into neighboring Iraq.