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ISIS Now Has Up To 31,000 Fighters — More Than Many Nations' Armies

The terrorist organization's forces have doubled, and possibly tripled, in size after recent victories, according to the CIA.

Posted on September 11, 2014, at 9:38 p.m. ET

AP Photo/Militant Website, File

ISIS fighters.

Extremist militant organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now has a fighting force numbering between 20,000 and 31,500 people.

ISIS's ranks were previously estimated at about 10,000 fighters, but a new Central Intelligence Agency assessment revealed that the group's forces have surged in recent months, the Associated Press reported Thursday. New fighters have flocked to the group due to better recruitment after battle victories, as well as the declaration of a caliphate, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told AP.

The CIA's latest assessment was produced from a review of intelligence reports between May and August. Additional intelligence also contributed to the higher numbers.

Reuters TV / Reuters

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant “Islamic State,” speaking in Mosul.

These new numbers mean ISIS now has a fighting force larger than those of many small countries.

President Obama insisted Wednesday that despite declaring a caliphate and controlling large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is not actually a "state." Still, if the group does have 31,500 fighters it would have a larger force than the standing militaries (not including reserves) of these countries:


JOSEPH EID/AFP / Getty Images

Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood (right) on a U.N. mission in 2012.

This Scandinavian country maintains a peacetime force of 23,000 soldiers, civilians, and conscripts. (It says it can mobilize a much larger force of 83,000, should the need arise.) Small armies are the norm in Europe's far north. For example, Finland maintains a similarly minimal force.


Carlos Barria / Reuters

Members of the Mongolian army in 2013.

Mongolia — which covers an area of land comparable to the size of Iran — has a standing force of only about 10,000 people.


LUIS ACOSTA/AFP / Getty Images

Uruguay's special forces soldiers in 2012.

The combined military forces of Uruguay's army, navy, and air force add up to about 25,000 people.



Kuwait's soldiers pose for a picture with American soldiers in 2011.

The small nation, which neighbors Iraq, had only 11,000 soldiers in 2007. There were another 23,000 reserves.



New officers of the Hungarian army in 2013.

This European nation, which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now has a fighting force of about 10,900.


Manfred Schmid / Getty Images

Austrian soldiers in 2013.

The other half of the once-proud Austro-Hungarian Empire also maintains a small fighting force of only 14,000 soldiers.

The list could go on — many African and Latin American nations have fewer than 30,000 active soldiers — but the comparisons give a sense of scale to ISIS forces.

None of this suggests that ISIS is as powerful as these other nations — many have reserves, populations, economies, allies, coalitions, etc. from which they could draw in an actual war. However, the new estimates of ISIS's fighting force show it has quickly amassed significant fighting power.