Is ISIS now stronger than ever?
The militant group could be attempting to goad the international community into an even broader war with it in Iraq and Syria
The highly sophisticated terrorist attacks, which saw multiple suicide bombers armed with AK47s strike six sites in Paris and indiscriminately massacre over 100 civilians, likely will trigger concerns that ISIS militant group is stronger than ever. But assessing the organization’s overall strength based only on its capability to carry out the bloody attack that it did, could prove to be a mistake.
The militant group could be attempting to goad the international community into an even broader war with it in Iraq and SyriaBrooklyn Middleton
Over the last two weeks, from North Sinai to the suburbs of Beirut to the heart of the French capital, ISIS has successfully inflicted deep wounds and reminded the world of their limitless barbarity and utter disregard for civilian lives. But on the militant group’s own turf, the United States-led coalition and Kurdish forces have recently dealt the group several major blows. With U.S. air coverage, Peshmerga and Yazidi fighters launched a swift offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Sinjar; in two-days, according to Kurdish reports, approximately 300 ISIS militants were killed, and the militant group’s 15-month long rule over the city had come to an end. Just prior to the Kurds’ offensive, the U.S. aerially targeted Mohammed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John, UK national turned brutal ISIS executioner responsible for the murders of multiple Western hostages. In a single drone strike, that reportedly hit Emwazi’s vehicle in the center of Raqqa, he and one of his friends were killed.
While the operational value of killing Emwazi is limited, the importance of his death is two-fold; one the one hand, the U.S. is illustrating it has both the intelligence and capability to successfully target ISIS leaders and figures in their own self-declared capital with very little risk. Secondly, as Emwazi joins “cyber chief” Junaid Hussain in death, the U.S. has, at least temporarily, hindered the militant group’s ability to produce propaganda by two now well-known militants.
As the world attempts to make sense of the carnage in Paris and in North Sinai, it should not be ruled out that the two most major ISIS attacks against western interests were carried out at what ISIS assesses is a critical point in the conflict. The militant group could be attempting to goad the international community into an even broader war with it in Iraq and Syria.
While the aerial campaign being waged by the U.S. has its limitations - and the Kurds and anti-ISIS rebels still need broader support – any deployment of ground troops would award ISIS western casualties, which they desperately seek. Moreover, the threat of ISIS cannot be fully addressed without addressing both the Assad regime’s continued, criminal rule and the refugee crisis.
The latter of which must be managed in a manner that addresses the humanitarian needs of civilians fleeing Syria and the security needs of the countries they are seeking refuge in. Both can and must be done. The alternative is as much as a moral failure as it is a security risk. At the same time, Arab states have to recommit to fighting ISIS; the slow abandoning of the agreed upon mission is an unacceptable response to continued U.S. and Kurdish efforts to degrade ISIS.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.