Is Islamic State’s Worst Nightmare Comes True?

 

By Pramod Raj Sedhain.

 

 

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed Caliphate is in crumbling stage. After series of shrink its capabilities in two-year battles, Islamic State (IS) is now heading on the path to ‘key defeat’. IS has suffered series of setbacks in its core areas in Iraq and Syria. The group is gradually losing its territories as well as facing worsening problems from multiple dimensions. Advancement of foreign-backed forces shows the rapidly shifted momentum on the ground. IS is also gradually losing battles in both Syria and Iraq and currently is facing a vulnerable condition from almost all battles. Key IS’s leaders continue killed in air strikes, namely chief spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, second-in-command Abu Ali al-Anbari, war minister Abu Omar al-Shishani, among others key figures. Declining IS military power will see deterioration of its capabilities and will no longer be able to advance, and is not capable of being defensive in its control areas for a longer period.

IS faces immense pressure from all directions in Syria & Iraq even in its control core areas. The U.S.-led coalition estimates IS has lost more than 45 percent of captured territory in Iraq & 20 percent in Syria in the last two years. Turkey launched new wider offensive “Operation Euphrates Shield” in Syria alongside Syrian rebels against IS. Turkish-led forces gain the ground from IS in border region. Despite deep differences with Turkey U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is a collective force of Arab, Assyrian, Kurdish and Turkmen captured significant parts of northern Syria & has now captured the Manbij city from the hands of the ISIS. Other local fighters captured the key IS sully route to Turkey. IS also faces separate assault from different rival groups in Syria. Russia-backed Syrian army recaptured the historic city of Palmyra & Al-Qaryatain in central Homs province as well Aleppo to Hama.

IS lost most of its captured areas in Iraq notably Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi, Beiji, Sinjar as well other different cities in northern Iraq. Iraqi forces and Peshmerge forces has been advancing toward IS strongholds. We can predict strategic IS losses in the coming months in both Iraq & Syria but still require more patience for the final outcome. The group will face growing hard military pressure which will no long sustain such large scale air raids and ground attacks. But IS still poses a significant counter-offensive capability.

Long-anticipated battle to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa & Iraqi city of Mosul from IS likely anytime soon. Preparations for an offensive for Raqqa & Mosul are on hold because of disputes between different actors. Operation to liberate Raqqa is also on hold owing to different operational vision between U.S. & Russia as well as tensions between Kurds, Arabs, Rebels, pro & anti government actors as well regional powers. Similarly, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have tightened the noose on the groups’ Iraqi stronghold Mosul. Iraqi forces and allied fighter groups are already deployed in the northern Nineveh to prepare for first phase of Mosul offensive. Each Iraqi anti- IS factors have sought bigger role in upcoming operation either national military, Shia fighters, Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni fighters, local tribesmen which U.S. sees such disputes will lead further escalation of violence in city.

Not only the central but similar loses from all its affiliated groups have been witnessed. Islamic State’s most organized, capable & dangerous affiliation in Libya now faces an incredible pressure from all sides. IS wing’s stronghold of Sirte city has been threatened from various local fighter groups. After U.S. & European direct military support to aiding local forces will be easy to retake local forces in Libya. Backed by U.S. air cover, Western backed local forces are gradually making progress in Sirte against IS . Libyan branch’s ambition to expand its influence in North Africa to Europe has been shattered by Western involvement.

IS’ approaches in Nigeria aim with vicious terror campaigns across the Sahara faces problems itself. IS’ West Africa branch (Boko Haram) factions have been divided into two groups. After losing series of battles, IS could thought of having possible problem in the leadership and appointed new leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi. The move was rejected by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Such division suggests IS presence in Africa’s most populous nation might face dire consequences.

Nigerian and neighboring regional armies Cameroon, Chad, Benin & Niger have successfully driven out IS branches from most of their captured territories & resources. After series of failures of large-scale attacks on security & government targets, they have stepped up attacks on softer targets in remote villages, crowded areas, local markets, and refugee camps which certainly will back fire in their former stronghold. Boko Haram militants now have very limited capacity and IS central rapidly lost of grip will be easy to cut off their direct coordination.

IS was must optimistic from it Yemeni franchise which aims to create al-Qaeda’s branch Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) type of most capable network. Despite several high-profile attacks in all over Yemen group failed to expand its capabilities.

Self-declared Islamic State’s Khorasan province in Afghanistan-Pakistan faces increasingly military pressure from Taliban and Afghan government forces. IS affiliated group in Afghan province of Nangarhar is losing the ground. Vicious attacks on hospital in Pakistan’s Quetta & Hazara rally in Kabul shows its ability to carry out deadly and sophisticated attacks. Despite different deadliest attacks, it has not expanded like it had succeeded in its initial phase. IS brutality in Afghan-Pakistan could backfire its expansion which we expect on factionalism & series of defections in near future.

IS is still operating its branches in Egypt’s Sinai to Somalia to dominate the global terrorism legacy against rival terror network al-Qaeda. IS is also trying to extend its global reach which they already have lost – such as in Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Somali, Russia, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh etc. Crumbling IS will not properly handle its global declared Wilayats (provinces) if their central leaders & terrorist defects. IS has intensified their global terror campaign to take revenge on its series of set backs in core areas. IS have preserved certain terrorism capabilities to carry out attacks in different parts of the world.

Despite all these positive developments against IS counterterrorism, success is vast difficult than simple perceptions or quick-fix ready-made solution. Counterterrorism efforts still have several limits in changing nature of IS terror group, its trans-boundary characteristics, deadly tactics & unfolding turmoil situation on the ground. Only military measure cannot defeat IS it requires favorable political situation with different strategies & ideas.

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