The CIA and other intelligence services have estimated the fighting strength of Islamic State (ISIS) to be no more than 31,500 terrorists - but according to a senior Kurdish officer, that number is actually at least 200,000.
Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Iraqi Kurdish Region President Massoud Barzani, told the Britain's The Independent that ISIS's ability to attack simultaneously over a wide region spanning Syria and Iraq shows its true fighting force is much higher than previously thought.
"I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilize Arab young men in the territory they have taken," Hussein said, noting the recruitment tactics of the brutal jihadist group.
Hussein continued "we are talking about a state that has a military and ideological basis, so that means they want everyone to learn how to use a rifle, but they also want everybody to have training in their ideology, in other words brainwashing." Given the critical economic situation of the region, ISIS's monthly salary of $400 doesn't hurt their recruitment ability either.
Since capturing the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10, ISIS has become the richest terrorist group in the world, followed by Hamas. Hussein estimates it now rules a third of Iraq and a third of Syria, governing a population of ten to 12 million in a 250,000 square meter area roughly the size of the UK.
ISIS's victories in Iraq and Syria have also caused the group to gain loyalty in other areas, such as in the Sinai Peninsula where the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis terrorist group pledged allegiance to ISIS last week.
Providing evidence that ISIS's ranks are larger than anticipated, Hussein stated "in Kurdistan last month they were attacking in seven different places as well as in Ramadi (west of Baghdad) and Jalawla (town near Iranian border). It is impossible to talk of 20,000 men or so."
The CIA back in September estimated ISIS had 20,000 to 31,500 terrorists, with the low figure perhaps explaining how ISIS has been able to surprise world powers with its massive victories in recent months over the US-trained Iraqi army as well as the Syrian army. But the Kurdish official says at best those number could account for ISIS's "core" fighters alone.
According to Hussein, Kurdish forces need Apache helicopters, tanks and artillery to fight off ISIS, which has captured Humvees, artillery and tanks from the Iraqi army, as well as fighter jets.