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Islamic State group lost quarter of its territory in 2016: Monitor

Defence analysts said IS lost 23 percent of its territory in 2016, following on from a 14 percent reduction the year before
IS militant waving the group's flag (AFP)

The Islamic State (IS) group lost almost a quarter of its territory in 2016, according to new research. 

Analysts from the defence monitor IHS Markit reported that the group's territory was now reduced to 60,400 square kilometres after losing 18,000 square kilometres. 

The conflict monitor predicted the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi government forces by the middle of the year but said that IS' de facto capital of Raqqa would take longer to seize. 

"IS suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group's governance project," Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor, told the BBC.

Graphic showing how much territory IS has lost in 2016 (MEE)

In Mosul - Iraq's second city, which has been under IS control since 2014 - Iraqi government forces had "made steady progress" in eastern districts, the report says, although they have been meeting heavy resistance in recent days.

Strack also told the BBC: "We expect Iraqi government forces to recapture Mosul before the second half of the year.

Taking Raqqa would be more difficult "given the complex political and military considerations involved", the IHS Conflict Monitor report said.

Turkey and Russia this week began joint airstrikes against IS targets in northern Syria. 

In November, a US-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), said it had begun an operation to capture Raqqa.