The Islamic State group lost 12% of the territory it holds in Iraq and Syria – an area the size of Ireland – in the first half of 2016, according to an analysis by research group IHS.
The analysis published on Sunday said the jihadist group, which proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate” in the two countries in 2014, is continuing to lose ground after a string of setbacks last year. IHS senior analyst Columb Strack said the losses were likely to mean Isis would redouble its attempts at “mass casualty attacks”.
“As the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is reprioritizing insurgency,” he said. “We unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.”
Isis has also seen its revenues drop, from around $80 million a month in mid-2015 to $56m a month by March 2016, according to IHS, painting a picture at odds with suggestions that the Islamic State may be ‘unstoppable.’
President Barack Obama told a press conference at a NATO summit in Poland that as the jihadist group loses territory and as “the fraud of the caliphate becomes more obvious,” it becomes clear that the group “can’t deliver anything meaningful to the people whose territory they can control.”
“This figure has probably continued to decrease since March by at least another 35 percent,” said Ludovico Carlino, another senior analyst at IHS. “Combined with the military setbacks on the ground, this is having an impact on the internal cohesion of the group as indicated by a marked increase in defections and desertions since January,” he added.
Efforts by the State Department and U.S. allies to take the fight to the Islamic State group online helped erode the jihadist group’s traffic on Twitter by 45 percent during the past two years, striking a blow at its recruitment and propaganda efforts, according to an Associated Press report:
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, launched in March, has played a key role in disseminating messages countering the jihadist group’s efforts to inspire terrorism through social media. The AP reports these include images of a teddy bear made up of Arabic words and featuring a message stating that the Islamic State group “slaughters childhood,” and a woman in a black veil with bloody tears coming from a bruised eye, alluding to the oppression of women in territory controlled by the jihadists.
Even as Turkey ramps up its campaign against the Islamic State, it continues to tolerate and even protect other Islamists designated by Western governments as terrorists, The Washington Post’s Jody Warrick writes:
Turkey has defended its policy of giving refuge to exiled supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which was overthrown in a coup in 2013. But among those offered shelter in Turkey are leaders of the Egyptian group Gamaa Islamiya, whose members carried out murderous attacks against tourists in Egypt in the 1990s and were later tied to multiple plots to kill Americans.
“These people were part of [al-Qaeda leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri’s core cadre,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Department counterterrorism official and now vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. “It’s all the more troubling because Turkey is a NATO member that is supposed to be allied with the West in fighting a common enemy.”
Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, party aligns itself with the international Muslim Brotherhood movement, and Erdogan personally has sought to project himself as a defender of oppressed Islamists, from Cairo to the Palestinian territories. But in reality, the lines between ardent nationalism and violent extremism are never neatly drawn, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.
“The AKP is Muslim Brotherhood-lite,” Cagaptay said. “But even as a ‘lite’ version, it is internationally networked and sympathetic to the heavier version. And that includes Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”
One part of a four-point strategy for defeating the Islamic State should focus on governance and politics by providing support to local municipal structures that can provide services and outgovern the extremists, according to Michèle Flournoy, chief executive and founder of the Center for a New American Security, and Ilan Goldenberg, who directs the center’s Middle East security program. And in time, as more acceptable groups gain influence and territory and as external actors become more pliable, the international community may be able to bring these conflicts to an end through negotiated outcomes that are based on keeping Syria and Iraq whole, but with highly decentralized governance models, they write for The Washington Post.
The National Democratic Institute currently works with Syrian civil society organizations (CSOs), local and provincial councils, and individual activists to build their understanding of the fundamentals of democracy, strengthen local governance structures and processes, and develop their ability to organize and advocate for change:
Through these efforts, NDI hopes to identify the Syrians that may form the nucleus of a future democratic governance structure, and to equip them with the skills, experience, and resources they need now to better administer civilian life in areas no longer controlled by the Assad regime. Such efforts to improve community resilience and foster democratic subcultures at the local level can be a powerful model for the country’s future once the conflict has subsided.
To improve the effectiveness of moderate Syrian voices by promoting increased communication and cooperation between opposition political activists outside Syria and activists and emerging leaders operating inside the country, the National Endowment for Democracy is backing the International Republican Institute’s Schools of Politics. The Institute will conduct at least four strategic communications and coalition building trainings that will develop participants’ ability to cooperate more effectively in addressing common goals and engaging key constituencies inside Syria.
Joby Warrick, whose book, Black Flags — The Rise Of ISIS (above), won the Pulitzer Prize, talked to RFE/RL about IS’s origins and their ramifications.
Some experts say there is little hope that the threat posed by a radical militant group such as Islamic State will diminish anytime soon. Authors Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan have even said, “The army of terror will be with us indefinitely.” Do you agree? RFE/RL asks:
Warrick: I think that’s unfortunately true, at least realistically in our lifetime. But I think the threat is going to change, it’s not going to be the same. Just as we saw a big threat from Al-Qaeda 10 to 15 years ago, that threat changed. I think the same thing is going to happen with Islamic State; it’s going to eventually lose its territory, that’s inevitable. But they are going to be left with the idea, and with people who have been radicalized by IS and who have gone back to their home countries. The ideas aren’t going away, so we’re going to have to be involved in this conflict for a very long time.