ISIS Collapsing in Iraq and Syria

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also know as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and as Daesh) spread like a particularly virulent and nasty virus across Syria and Iraq a couple of years ago. However, its nightmare reign of terror is ending slowly but surely as forces of civilization advance on its territory. The military defeat of ISIS is almost inevitable now, and that will liberate millions to live life in the 21st rather than the 11th century. However, the world is not at the beginning of the end so much as the end of the beginning. ISIS fighters will scatter to the four winds, and some will continue the struggle in small cells or as lone wolves. Terrorism from ISIS will continue.

The Iraqi Army turned tail and ran from ISIS a couple of years ago, surrendering vast swathes of territory without firing a shot. This shameful cowardice allowed ISIS to arm itself US provided weapons, and it used this enhanced firepower to tighten its grip on the territory it held. At the same time, it used the Syrian Civil War and the chaos that came with it to grab land in that unfortunate country.

However, thanks to Kurdish peshmerga, various Syrian factions, Turkish military forces, and the Iraqi Army (which acquired new weapons and some courage) as well as American special forces and airpower, ISIS has been in retreat for months. The town of Dabiq in Syria has fallen to the forces of light, a town that ISIS had claimed would be the site of the Last Battle on Judgment Day. Mosul in Iraq, a city of a couple million that ISIS captured two years ago, is now under attack by Kurdish forces and Iraqi personnel. While the battle is just getting started, ISIS has no air cover, and its fighters are withdrawing from what one can tell in the media.

This leaves ISIS with just one major urban area, Raqaa in Syria, to which the Mosul forces are retreating. The question then becomes who wants to take Raqaa? The Damascus government most certain would. The Americans won’t; with 5,000 troops in Iraq, there aren’t enough. Iraqi forces won’t cross the border in all likelihood. The Turks might and have the manpower, but if they do, they risk escalating things with the Assad regime. The Russians might help President Assad’s troops, but they are playing a complicated game that may or may not include taking Raqaa. It is quite conceivable that no one will follow this offensive up, leaving ISIS with some sand in Syria.

On the other hand, if Raqaa does fall, it is almost inevitable that ISIS fighters will escape. Capturing all of an enemy army that doesn’t fight by 18th century European rules is impossible. Some will pretend to be locals, others will simply run into the desert and regroup. If they had other skills and abilities beyond carrying a gun and scaring people, they would be using them already. Losing in Raqaa will not suddenly render them peaceful persons. They will continue to fight by whatever means that can.

As the Americans learned when they wiped out Al Qaeda 1.0 in Afghanistan by bombing the bejesus out of their bases and taking many prisoners, such a group transforms into a decentralized network. If that is disrupted, the group can still carry on as a franchise operation with terrorists from wherever developing their own plans and pledging fealty to the group carry out murder and mayhem.

It is for that reason that this marks the end of the beginning of ISIS and not the beginning of the end. Mosul will be liberated, Raqaa will probably follow. And then, the ISIS fighters who are not killed nor captured will form the nucleus of a network that will continue its nasty behavior in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

What allowed Al Qaeda 2.0 to form was mistake by the Americans in believing the conflict was over when the last base was taken. The war may end, but until the enemy soldiers put down their guns, the conflict remains. If ISIS 2.0 faces pressure from civilization immediately, with infiltration and disruption, its bloody future will be shorter.

© Copyright 2016 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor.