New report finds ISIS' caliphate 'is on a path to collapse'

A new report from the Rand Corporation found that the terrorist group ISIS has lost most of the territory it once controlled and that its self-declared "caliphate" is now "on a path to collapse."

The report found that ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, "has lost substantial control of territory and people since 2014 in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria," putting it in danger of losing its state, which it calls a "caliphate," altogether.

But control over territory and people isn't the only thing that makes ISIS a formidable terrorist organization. The group has recently been focusing heavily on external attacks, some of which are mounted without any direct orders from ISIS leaders.

ISIS often issues calls for Westerners to launch attacks in their home countries, and in its online publications the group has included tips for picking weapons and targets.

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A glimpse into the land ISIS has lost
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A glimpse into the land ISIS has lost
A billboard (L) with Koranic verses is seen in the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "PALMYRA SANADIKI" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An Islamic State flag hangs on the wall of an abandoned building in Tel Hamis in Hasaka countryside after the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) took control of the area March 1, 2015. Kurdish forces dealt a blow to Islamic State by capturing Tel Hamis, an important town, on Friday in the latest stage of a powerful offensive in northeast Syria, a Kurdish militia spokesman said. The capture of Tel Hamis was announced by the Kurdish YPG militia and confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country's civil war. REUTERS/Rodi Said (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Tripods and a projector are pictured inside an ancient Hammam that was used by Islamic State militants as a media centre in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A view shows part of a media centre that belonged to Islamic State militants inside an ancient Hammam in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A tunnel used by Islamic State militants is seen in the town of Sinjar, Iraq December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A view shows car parts, which according to Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters were used by Islamic State militants to prepare car bombs, at a workshop in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Iraqi soldiers inspect a vehicle used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A captured Islamic State tank and shells are seen at the Iraqi army base in Qaraqosh, east of Mosul, Iraq November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rocket-propelled grenades left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Explosives left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Iraqi security forces takes a selfie at a building that was used by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A book belonging to Islamic State militants is seen in Falluja after government forces recaptured the city from Islamic State militants, Iraq, June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
An Iraqi officer displays Russian passports, which he says belong to Islamic State fighters, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A man who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul shows his marriage certificate issued by the Islamic State militants at temporary court at Khazer camp in Iraq, January 18, 2017. Picture taken January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
A member of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands by an Islamic State militants weapons factory in Falluja, Iraq, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter inspects a room, which according to the SDF was used by Islamic State militants to prepare explosives, in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
U.S. Special Operations Forces members inspect a drone used by Islamic State militants to drop explosives on Iraqi forces, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A member of Iraqi security forces inspects a building that was used as a prison by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A mass grave for Islamic State militants are seen in Falluja, Iraq, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
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"The Islamic State's territorial losses indicate that it is evolving from an insurgent group to a clandestine organization that directs and inspires wide-ranging terrorist attacks," Seth Jones, the lead author on the report and director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND, said in a statement. "Despite its recent challenges, the Islamic State still seeks to expand its power and influence, including through social media and the Internet."

Still, the loss of territory is significant. ISIS has made much of its money through taxing and extorting the populations it controlled and selling oil from territory it held.

ISIS rampaged across the Middle East in 2014, seizing large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. But it has since lost much of that territory as Western countries have waged war against it.

In its report, Rand outlined the territorial losses ISIS has suffered since 2014:

ISIS territoryRAND Corporation

ISIS has lost 57% of its territory and 73% of the people once under its control, according to Rand. At its peak in 2014, ISIS controlled nearly 30,000 square miles of territory containing a population of about 11 million.

ISIS also controls territory outside its base in Iraq and Syria — it has seized small parts of Libya and Afghanistan, for instance — but its holdings outside of its main areas of operation are limited.

Aside from territory, ISIS also seems to be losing hearts and minds. Rand's report suggested polling data indicates "declining support across the Muslim world for the Islamic State and its ideology."

The group still has enough supporters, though, to be considered a serious threat to countries in the Middle East and around the world. Rand also found that ISIS attacks have shot up in recent months. The data suggests that ISIS "has begun to move from an insurgent group that controls territory to a clandestine terrorist group that conducts attacks against government officials and noncombatants," the report said. This is the model of ISIS' predecessor organization, Al Qaeda.

ISIS attacksRAND Corporation

Though it seems that the US-led campaign against ISIS has been successful so far, ISIS remains a long way from extinction.

"Fully eliminating the threat the Islamic State poses will require continued American leadership for years to come," the report said. "... In the short and perhaps medium terms, this contraction in territorial control may actually lead to more terrorist attacks across the globe. But over time, the group's capacity to recruit, fund, organize, and inspire such attacks will likely diminish, and its brand may lose its allure if the Islamic State no longer controls territory in Iraq and Syria."

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