Aron Lund details the many setbacks ISIS has encountered since August 2014, but he goes on to write: The Islamic State is losing, but that does not mean that it is going to fold and disappear.
First of all, despite this long string of defeats, the Islamic State has also made progress, albeit on a lesser scale, in places like western Iraq, eastern Homs, and the Syrian desert. There is still low-hanging fruit to be picked in war-torn Syria and, for all its recent victories, the Iraqi government is staring into the barrel of economic disaster due to tumbling oil prices. Further afield, there are plenty of soft targets in Libya and Lebanon, not to mention the mouthwatering prospects that jihadis see in Jordan, Egypt and, apparently, Nigeria.
Nor should one underestimate the ability of the Islamic State to adapt to adverse circumstances. It is a flexible and lethal force and it knows what it is up against. Its top leaders have about a decade of hard-earned experience and are surely among the world’s most skilled practitioners of guerrilla war under hostile aerial supremacy. The United States was not able to decisively break Sunni jihadism in Iraq while occupying the country with 140,000 soldiers, and it will be even harder without them. And even though a number of measures have been taken to police borders, air traffic, and international bank transfers, foreign supporters in the Middle East and Europe will continue to provide the Islamic State with a hard core of fanatic volunteer fighters, suicide bombers, and financiers.
Most importantly, it must be remembered that the Islamic State is a product of the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts, not their cause. As long as the overall sectarian conflict continues, the Islamic State will continue to find willing recruits in deprived and brutalized Sunni Arab regions where becoming a holy warrior may be the only career choice available and where few community leaders see any hope of peaceful coexistence with the authoritarian rulers of Damascus and Baghdad. [Continue reading…]