Globe: The End of ISIS

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Often, the town square of Raqqa would feature victims of the latest round of Islamic State inquisition; those who failed to conform to the laws of the caliphate, whether the crime be smoking or listening to music, would hang for all to see, accompanied by a sign that stated their crime. Hanging along with the violators of caliphate law are those accused of spying. Whether they were spies or not – likely not – was irrelevant. Now Raqqa, the former capital of the caliphate declare by the Islamic State (ISIS), is a city in ruins.

While America was preoccupied with news of Hollywood scandals and presidential tweetstorms, ISIS was in the process of being defeated. Through the American-supported proxy of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a combined Arab-Kurdish force, has besieged and liberated Raqqa from ISIS control. Now the Islamic State has lost their Syrian capital of Raqqa, as well as their most populous city of Mosul in just a matter of months.

While ISIS has lost their major strongholds, the war against the terrorist faction still continues. Though much of their territory in the Fertile Crescent has been lost since their blitz across Iraq and Syria more than two years ago, the Islamic State still controls a core of territory that still spans both nations, along with isolated pockets of territory surrounded by Syrian, Iraqi, or Kurdish forces.

Along with that center of territory still controlled by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State still has pockets of territory outside Mesopotamia in North Africa and Afghanistan. In Libya, the Islamic State was able to capitalize on the chaos that followed the Libyan Civil War, and some areas on the coast are still controlled by ISIS.

More notably in Afghanistan, ISIS was able to establish a small foothold where ISIS-controlled enclaves is surrounded by territory controlled by the Taliban, and enemy to ISIS. None of the areas controlled by ISIS in Africa or Afghanistan are remotely as large as the now-diminished Islamic State controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. Though despite the past and future losses of territory for ISIS, the war against the Islamic State will still continue.

The forlorn reality of combatting terrorist groups is that major setbacks such as loss of capitals or other forms of territory will not necessarily defeat them. It is not like the Second World War, where the dramatic climax of the storming of Berlin signals the end of the conflict.

The ideological and asymmetric nature of groups such as ISIS allow them the ability to continue fighting against all logic. Around sixteen years after the Taliban was expelled from Kabul, the Taliban still continues to fight in the mountains, using the rural and isolated environment they inhabit to their advantage. So too will ISIS in the months – if not years – following the capture of the caliphate’s former capital.

And though the physical presence of ISIS will be decimated, the idea of the Islamic State will still exist. The true believers will go on fighting; if not with the flag of ISIS, then by a splinter group. Such has been the history of extremist insurgencies; when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceased their war against the United Kingdom in the 1990s, splinter IRA groups continue to launch terrorist attacks to this day. Recently, when the Columbian government and FARC ended their decades-long war, a splinter group refused to the ceasefire and vowed to continue their war against Columbia.

The West should expect history to repeat itself with ISIS. The truest believers will continue the fight for years to come, and even when ISIS is destroyed, groups claiming to be the successors to the short-lived caliphate will attempt to launch campaigns of terror.

This is not to say that the fall of Raqqa is in vain; on the contrary, the more territory the Islamic State loses, the less room it has to plan its attacks on the West. With the physical presence of ISIS removed, the idea of joining the Islamic State’s war begins to diminish for those entertaining the idea of traveling to Syria to fight in the war.

They too thrive on hope, and when their cities are retaken by pro-Western factions, and their fighting forces annihilated by Western air forces, hope is robbed from them. When the thought of joining ISIS is quickly eliminated by subconscious images of cluster bombs tearing holes through black-flagged Toyotas, then the war against ISIS would be won.

The world will soon be reminded of the nature of Middle Eastern politics. Even with ISIS territory still in existence, Iraqi government forces are closing in on Kurdish territory, dissuading the population from any notions of independence. The cities that served as the battlegrounds in the fight against the Islamic State are in ruins; many have no hope of Raqqa and Mosul recovering from the horror of the war.

 The Sunnis, the Islamic sect that makes up a minority of Iraq by a majority of ISIS is in the wind again; failure to incorporate them into a new post-ISIS Iraq will result in another terrorist group claiming to speak on behalf of Sunnis.

In Syria, the anti-ISIS forces that helped liberate the city of Raqqa from Islamic State control now face the threat of Syria and her allies, along with the threat of insurrection within the demographically dived SDF. There are many questions surrounding the uncertain future of the Middle East, but one thing is certain – the future will be violent. As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, “blood will have blood.”