Terror group expected to return to insurgency tactics
US-backed forces celebrated Islamic State’s defeat in Raqqa after a four-month battle. The city has been almost completely destroyed, with virtually no civilians remaining in what was once the capital of ISIS’ self-declared “caliphate.”
The victory in Raqqa comes just months after the Islamic State was ousted from another of its strongholds in Mosul, Iraq. Together, the two victories mark the end of the Islamic State’s control over territory conquered when it brought sweeping devastation across the Middle East in 2014.
But analysts caution that the group still has a significant presence in Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as well as adherents across the globe.
“What Islamic State? It’s not a state anymore,” Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert and Vice-Rector of Tel Aviv University quipped to The Media Line. “It will go back to what it used to be before—it will go underground and focus on guerrilla warfare.”
Zisser said that not having a territorial base will make it harder for the terror group to operate and recruit new members. At the same time, however, the organization may try to perpetrate a high-profile attack to prove to the international community and its followers that it should still be taken seriously.
In this respect, ISIS will continue to recruit disaffected youth who view the terror group as an outlet for their frustrations. In Syria, for example, years of fighting has destroyed the economy and there are few opportunities for young people to earn a living. Many could also be drawn to ISIS out of hatred for President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq, which has also been ravaged by more than a decade of warfare, the US-backed government of Haider al-Abadi has been unable to create new jobs.
“In Iraq, ISIS has been ousted but if the root issues, such as corruption and providing services like employment and education, are not addressed then this will lead to disillusionment all over again and the terror group feeds on that,” Saad Aldouri, an expert on Arab youth at Chatham House in London told The Media Line.
Rampant dissatisfaction led the masses in 2011 to launch widespread protests in the Middle East that culminated in the so-called Arab Spring. However, with the exception of Tunisia, there has been little progress towards achieving democratic reforms.
Aldouri believes that the Islamic State still has many supporters, having made significant inroads through its effective use of social media. There is also concern that many of the ISIS fighters originating from European countries will now return to threaten the continent. To date, at least 1,500 ISIS terrorists have returned to Europe after battling in Syria and Iraq, according to European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.
The US and the UN intend to send teams into Raqqa but officials warn it could be years until some 300,000 displaced people are able to return to their homes. Those living in nearby refugee camps face shortages of food and medicine, which demands a large-scale humanitarian effort to help them.