The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading
Within the next month, the Islamic State (IS) will likely lose its grip on its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and the operation to drive it from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, will begin. The destruction of IS’s caliphate, however, is not even close to the end of the road for the movement, not least because of the manner in which it is being accomplished.
At its core the IS movement is waging a revolutionary war, and as Craig Whiteside, a fellow with The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has explained, this means that the focus is on legitimacy. Military victories come and go but if IS is, over the long-term, gaining acceptance—whether from support, resignation, or fear—among the population it hopes to govern (the Sunni Arabs), then it is winning. It is for this reason that IS tries to embed political victories within its military defeats. Continue reading
Brian Fishman’s The Master Plan provides a comprehensive history of the Islamic State’s (IS) strategic evolution, covering the personalities and events that shaped one of the most feared terrorist-insurgent groups that has ever existed. Eminently readable, in places even amusing—no small feat in a book about IS—Fishman flips with ease between the overview and the granular to demonstrate his points, using new sources that will allow as much supplementary research as a reader could wish for, and ties it together in a narrative that will be of use to both specialists and generalists. Continue reading
Published at The International Business Times
The Islamic State (IS) is supposed to be on its way to defeat. IS is under assault in Mosul and the operation to evict it from Raqqa began a month ago. Just this morning, Turkish-backed rebel forces in Syria have reportedly pierced IS’s defences in al-Bab, IS’s most important city outside of its twin capitals. But on Sunday, after a four-day offensive, IS seized Palmyra. How to explain this? Continue reading
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society
The Islamic State (IS) is nominally under attack now in its twin capitals, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. This is necessary task, of course, but, as I’ve written repeatedly over the last few months, clearing IS from its urban centres is not sufficient. IS lost its overt urban holdings once before and nonetheless rebuilt in the deserts between 2008 and 2013, rising again to seize increasingly-large tracts of territory that were eventually declared a caliphate. IS was able to do this because of the success of its long-term method of war-making, and political changes in Baghdad—toward greater sectarianism and authoritarianism—that gave it more space to manoeuvre. The flaws in the strategy and partners the U.S.-led international Coalition have chosen to eliminate IS are creating a situation in which what will be called “victory” is really the resetting of the cycle. More evidence of this has recently come to the fore. Continue reading