The commander of the U.S. military’s special operations division has given a modern – higher – death count for the war against the Islamic State.
Speaking at a conference in Maryland on Tuesday, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas said that serviceman had killed approximately 60,000 ISIS militants in the past two years.
That’s 10,000 more than what officials estimated just this past December.
‘I’m not into morbid body count, but that matters,’ Thomas said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict conference, according to Military.com. ‘So when folks quiz, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific right now.’
Still, other military experts say that death toll isn’t an especially helpful figure when determining the effectiveness of a campaign.
‘References to enemy killed are estimates, not precise figures,’ Defense Department Spokesman Christopher Sherwood told Fox News. ‘While the number of enemies killed is one measure of military success, the [U.S. military] coalition does not use this as a measure of effectiveness of the campaign to defeat ISIS.’
Sherwood said that the more effective way to measure success is the ‘impact’ on the enemy’s ability to ‘hold territory and to plan, finance, and conduct terrorist operations’.
Robin Simcox, the Margaret Thatcher Fellow focusing on terrorism and national security at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox that ISIS’ ability to continue recruiting members to commit terrorist attacks reveals that ‘we’ve barely made a scratch’.
In December, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also downplayed the importance of death counts.
‘My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,’ Hagel told CNN.
Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, explained that death totals in that war were high but were not any indication of U.S. success.
There’s also an issue with how accurate that number can be. In December, the UK’s Defense Secretary estimated the number of ISIS militants killed at 25,000. This reveals how far off these estimates can be, even among allies that share intelligence.
According to MIlitary.com, ‘what makes the number of militants killed challenging to put into context is the wide variance between estimates of how numerous Islamic State militants there are to start with’.
For example, in 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that there were about 100,000 militants in Iraq and Syria. Last summer, the Pentagon estimated that there were only about 15,000 to 20,000 left.