US Estimates: Up to 6,000 ISIS Fighters in Libya

As Officials Talk Up Intervention, Estimates of Force Rise

When the US made the decision to launch a war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they dramatically underestimated the size of the ISIS forces there, aiming to downplay the effort for the sake of selling the war as smaller than it really would be. In Libya, they seem to be going the other way.

Pentagon estimates for Libya have around 3,000 ISIS fighters there, but as officials agitate for an expansion of the war into Libya, US officials are now revising the ISIS presence upward, saying that they now has as many as 6,000 fighters there.

That’s a pretty huge presence, when one considers ISIS only really has one Libyan city, Sirte, and a bit of coastline on either side of it. By contrast, 20,000 to 25,000 ISIS fighters are enough to control more than half of Syria and a significant chunk of Iraq.

Of course, sheer numbers don’t tell the whole story, but the lack of significant government forces in Libya should mean ISIS could do more with less, as opposed to the better armed and much larger Iraqi and Syrian militaries.

It must be asked, however, if the sudden upward revision, which is coming at the exact time the administration is trying to sell the expansion of the war into Libya, is meant to make the ISIS force there look a lot more imposing than it really is.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.