Insights into Editorial: Down, but definitely not out: on future of the Islamic State
Context: About ISIS presence:
The Islamic State, which at its peak controlled territories straddling the Iraq-Syria border of the size of Great Britain, is now fighting for half a square kilometre in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led rebel group assisted by the U.S has effectively laid siege to Baghouz, the eastern Syrian village where about 500 IS jihadists along with 4,000 women and children are caught.
When the IS lost bigger cities such as Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, militants moved to Baghouz and the deserts in the south.
The Syrian civil war started as a largely peaceful uprising against the Syrian government in March 2011 but was brutally repressed and quickly morphed into a complex, multi-faceted war.
The former United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated at least 400,000 people had died over the first five years of conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced by the violence.
How ISIS had emerged from destroyed reminants?
- ISIS is a proto-state terrorist network that can be traced back to a group called al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was started by a Jordanian terrorist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and arose in response to the S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
- When U.S. forces began to withdraw from Iraq in 2010, al-Qaeda in Iraq was a shadow of its former self because its leadership had largely been destroyed.
- However, the civil war in Syria, growing sectarian tensions and a degraded military in Iraq created an opening, the remnants of AQI found an opportunity for revival and rebranded themselves as the Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
- The IS was born when al-Nusra split, which breathed new life into the moribund organization.
- By mid-2012, it had grown so much that the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that ISIS could “declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”
- ISIS did just that, declaring a caliphate in June 2014. The caliphate, self-described as the Islamic State, functioned like a government: It provided courts, religious schools and social welfare services; maintained public order; and even collected hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.
How this large Crisis has been slowly turning off:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that nearly 59,000 people have left IS-held territory since December, and at least 4,000 jihadists have surrendered since February.
Both President Donald Trump and the SDF commanders say victory against the IS is imminent. Victory in Baghouz will also mean the IS’s territorial caliphate is shattered.
Since the battle for Kobane in 2015, which marked the beginning of the end of the IS, Syrian Kurdish rebels have been in the forefront of the war. Naturally, the SDF would claim the final victory against the IS.
Is really forces eliminated ISIS completely?
However, the liberation of Baghouz or the destruction of the territorial caliphate does not necessarily mean that the IS has been defeated.
It is basically an insurgent-jihadist group. It has established sleeper cells, especially in Syria and Iraq, which have continued to carry out terror attacks even as IS territories kept shrinking.
The group has a presence in Syria’s vast deserts, a tactic its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, successfully used when it was in decline during 2006-2011 after its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by the U.S.
The presence, however, of sleeper cells alone may not be sufficient for terror groups to gain ground.
Experience in West Asia is that an unstable internal security situation contributes greatly to the growth of terrorism.
Can it still organise or inspire attacks overseas?
As Islamic State clung to its last scrap of land, the head of Britain’s spy agency MI6 warned that the group would return to “asymmetric” attacks.
Even after it began losing ground militarily, IS still claimed responsibility for attacks made in different countries, though often these have been blamed on “lone wolves” without its direction.
It started years ago to call on followers abroad to plan their own attacks, rather than focusing purely on ones staged by trained operatives supported by the group’s hierarchy.
In early 2018 the head of U.S. military central command said Islamic State was resilient and remained capable of “inspiring attacks throughout the region and outside of the Middle East”.
Thousands of Islamic State insurgents and civilian followers have also been killed and thousands more captured. An unknown number remain at large in both Syria and Iraq.
It is important to understand that even though this territory has been reclaimed, the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over.
The U.S., the Kurdish rebels, the Syrian government and other stakeholders in the region should be mindful of the geopolitical and sectarian minefields that groups such as the IS could exploit for their re-emergence.
Way Forward: Issues that need to be addressed to avoid ISIS:
Mr. Trump has already announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
The Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Openly distrustful and unwilling to confide of the rapid rise of the Syrian Kurds, who are organisationally and ideologically aligned with Kurdish rebels on the Turkish side.
The Syrian regime, on its part, has vowed to re-establish its authority over the Kurdish autonomous region in the northeast.
If Turkey and Syria attack Kurdish rebels, who were vital in the battle against the IS, that would throw north-eastern Syria into chaos again, which would suit the jihadists.
To avoid this, there must be an orderly U.S. withdrawal and a political solution to the Syrian civil war.