Written by  //  October 12, 2023  //  Middle East & Arab World, Terrorism  //  Comments Off on ISIS/ISIL/DAESH 2019-

What ISIS Really Wants
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths.
It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs,
among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.
Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it

12 October
Debate Sparks Over ISIS Connection With Hamas In Israel Attack
(CNN) while the objective of this operation this counter offensive from Israel is very clear that is to militarily annihilate Hamas to ensure that Hamas does not ever dare to attack another Israeli civilian or citizen but what happens after Hamas is cut off [at] its knees is unclear because there will be a political vacuum.
Israeli leaders from Benjamin Netanyahu downwards have also been consistently saying that Hamas is worse than Isis, today the Israeli Defense Forces put out a video showing footage of Hamas fighters who attacked Israeli citizens on Saturday carrying Isis Flags.
What It Would Mean to Treat Hamas Like ISIS
(MSNBC & NYT Opinion) The instant I understood the scale of Hamas’s attack on Israel, I understood the probable response. As I read reports of Hamas terrorists murdering entire families, raping Israeli women beside the bodies of their dead friends and dragging Israeli hostages into Gaza, it was apparent that Hamas had chosen to behave like ISIS, and if it behaved like ISIS, then the Israel Defense Forces were justified in treating Hamas in Gaza the same way the United States and its allies treated ISIS in Iraq.
This means Israel’s goal is not to punish Hamas but to defeat it — to remove it from power in Gaza the way the Iraqi military, the United States and their allies removed ISIS from Mosul, Falluja, Ramadi and every other city ISIS controlled in Iraq.
Pentagon chief Austin says Hamas atrocities are ‘worse than what I saw with ISIS’
‘This isn’t time for neutrality’: Visiting Tel Aviv, SecDef vows US ‘will make sure Israel has what it needs,’ decries ‘false equivalence,’ says ‘time for resolve and not revenge’
(Times of Israel) Austin, who served as the commander of CENTCOM, the US forces in the Middle East, from 2013-2016, told Netanyahu that “as you know, I was the guy that initially put the ISIS campaign together and I know a lot about ISIS, and this is worse than what I saw with ISIS.”

27 August
ISIL doubled territory it controls in Mali in less than a year: UN
UN experts say the armed group now controls rural areas in eastern Menaka and large parts of the Ansongo area in northern Gao.
The armed group ISIL (ISIS) has almost doubled its territory in Mali in less than a year, United Nations experts have said in a new report.
The stalled implementation of a peace deal and sustained attacks on communities have offered ISIL and an al-Qaeda affiliate also operating in the region a chance “to re-enact the 2012 scenario”, it said.
That is the year when a military coup took place in the West African country and rebels in the north formed “an Islamic state” two months later. The rebels were forced from power in the north with the help of a French-led military operation, but they moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali in 2015 and remain active.
In August 2020, Mali’s president was overthrown in a coup that included an army colonel who carried out a second coup and was sworn in as president in June 2021. He developed ties to Russia’s military and its Wagner Group of mercenaries, whose head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash on a flight from Moscow last week.


3 February
U.S. says Islamic State leader killed in Syria raid
(Reuters) – The leader of the jihadist group Islamic State died in a U.S. special forces raid in northern Syria on Thursday when he detonated a bomb that killed him and family members, the U.S. administration said.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi had led the group since the death of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed when he detonated explosives during a U.S. raid in 2019.
ISIL leader killed in US raid in Syria, Biden says
US president says Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew himself up, killing several members of his family.
(Al Jazeera) United States President Joe Biden has said the leader of ISIL (ISIS) has been “taken off the battlefield” following an overnight raid in Syria that also killed children and women.
A senior US administration official told reporters on Thursday that ISIL leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in the raid.
1-2 February
Islamic State hits back, aided by power vacuum in Iraq and Syria
Security forces jostle for control in parts of Iraq, Syria
Rivalries undermine security and play into militants’ hands
Islamic State launches series of big attacks including on prison
Armed forces in region say group won’t be a major threat again
Locals fear it could stage comeback as law and order break down
Nonstate threats in the Taliban’s Afghanistan
(Brookings) This analysis reviews three of the most prominent and their implications for the United States.
The first risk is that the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), which has had an openly adversarial relationship with the Taliban, takes advantage of the new government’s weakness and preoccupations to bolster its own recruiting, fundraising, and territorial control within Afghanistan; and that its pressure on the government makes the Taliban leadership less likely to offer concessions to domestic or foreign critics.

26 January
As Islamic State Resurges, U.S. Is Drawn Back Into the Fray
“ISIS is not over”: Attacks in Syria and Iraq make clear that the militants have lost neither their will to fight nor their ability to do so.
(NYT) An audacious attack on a prison housing thousands of former ISIS fighters in Syria. A series of strikes against military forces in neighboring Iraq. And a horrific video harking back to the grimmest days of the insurgency that showed the beheading of an Iraqi police officer.
The evidence of a resurgence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is mounting by the day, nearly three years after the militants lost the last patch of territory of their so-called caliphate, which once stretched across vast parts of the two countries. The fact that ISIS was able to mount these coordinated and sophisticated attacks in recent days shows that what had been believed to be disparate sleeper cells are re-emerging as a more serious threat.
Kurdish-led forces in Syria recapture prison from ISIL
SDF say they recaptured Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh a week after ISIL fighters attempted a major jailbreak.
UNICEF says fears grow over fate of 850 children in besieged Syrian prison
Fears for 850 children six days after prison breakout
Kurdish led forces tighten siege of detention centre
Over 45,000 people in the area flee their homes
(Reuters) – Fears are growing for hundreds of children in a Syrian prison seized by Islamic State inmates, after six days of clashes with Kurdish-led fighters seeking to regain control of the facility, the United Nations children’s agency said on Tuesday.
About 850 children are caught in the crossfire as Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) aided by U.S. troops attempt to storm the prison in Hasaka city after it was seized by militants last Thursday, leaving dozens dead.

24 January
Afghanistan’s Most Dangerous Threat
Why America Can’t Take on the Haqqani Network Alone
By Melissa Skorka
(Foreign Affairs) Five months after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan has set off a new debate about counterterrorism strategy. In Foreign Affairs this week, Melissa Skorka calls for a new multinational coalition to deal with the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-K. “Only by addressing the Haqqani problem head-on,” Skorka writes, “will the United States and other major powers be able to prevent Afghanistan from becoming once again the world’s largest terrorist sanctuary.”


8 October
Afghanistan: Dozens killed in suicide bombing at Kunduz mosque
ISIL affiliate claims responsibility for the blast at Shia mosque in Kunduz that has killed dozens.
The Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) claimed responsibility for the attack through its Telegram channels on Friday.
In a statement released on Telegram, the group said an ISIS-K suicide bomber “detonated an explosive vest amid a crowd” of Shia worshippers who had gathered inside the mosque.
Video footage showed bodies surrounded by debris inside the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque that is used by people from the minority Shia Muslim community.
There have been conflicting reports about the number of casualties. The United Nations mission to Afghanistan said in a tweet the blast killed and wounded more than 100 people.

8 September
Trial Begins Over November 2015 Paris Terrorist Attacks
The assaults carried out by Islamic State extremists that killed 130 people deeply rattled France and sent shock waves across Europe. The proceedings are scheduled to last at least nine months.
(NYT) The coordinated assaults on Nov. 13 — a series of shootings and suicide bombings at the Bataclan concert hall, an area outside France’s national soccer stadium and the terraces of cafes and restaurants in central Paris — were carried out by 10 Islamic State extremists who killed 130 people and wounded nearly 500 others. (One survivor who suffered from severe trauma and killed himself in 2017 was officially declared the 131st victim.)

27 August
Dr. Jonathan Schroden: What ISIS-K Means for Afghanistan
The hard-to-kill insurgency behind the bombing poses a huge challenge for the Taliban—and a puzzle for American efforts to keep the country stable
Finger-pointing began immediately after Thursday’s suicide bombing near the Kabul Airport. President Joe Biden, in a speech to the nation, said America would hunt down the perpetrators—members of the extremist group ISIS-K, which has taken root in Afghanistan over the past several years. The Taliban blamed the United States, not for the bombing but for failing to keep things safe at the airport, saying the bombing “took place in an area where U.S. forces are responsible for security.

7 December
FBI investigates whether fatal Fla. air base shooting is linked to terrorism
(WaPo) Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani was training on the Naval Air Station Pensacola when he used a handgun to open fire in a classroom at dawn, officials said, stunning a military community two days after a sailor at a Pearl Harbor naval base killed two people and injured a third before turning his gun on himself. Late Friday, several independent organizations published postings from a Twitter account said to belong to Shamrani, who officials say was a member of the Saudi air force and one of a couple hundred international students training at the Pensacola base. The postings, under the handle @M7MD_SHAMRANI, included a photo image of a letter in English apparently written a few hours before the shooting rampage. The Washington Post has not confirmed that the account belonged to the shooter. The letter does not contain an explicit pledge of support for any group, but the contents echo views expressed by al-Qaeda as well as extremist clerics in the Persian Gulf, analysts said.

22 November
What ISIS Will Become
The group has lost its territory and its leader. But it has survived before—and can do it again.
(The Atlantic) In the past year, its leader has died and it has lost the last of its territory, which at its peak was roughly the size of Britain. Much like after the Iraq War, though, both ISIS and the conditions that fostered it remain—and in some ways, the environment is even more promising for its survival now. ISIS may be weaker, but it retains thousands of members across Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration’s management of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq had its own problems, but Trump’s abrupt and unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops from northeastern Syria has been a picture of chaos. U.S. efforts to rebuild and provide humanitarian relief and security in former ISIS strongholds in the country are in jeopardy, as is the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which served as America’s main partner. In Iraq, many areas have not been adequately rebuilt, and the country’s political and economic morass has spurred weeks of demonstrations, to which the government has responded with brutal crackdowns. An entire generation across both Iraq and Syria has been traumatized by extremism and war, and tens of thousands of suspected ISIS members and their families languish in the limbo of poorly resourced camps in Syria. The international community has made little effort to help the masses of children whom ISIS made a concerted effort to radicalize.
So what’s next? Aaron Zelin, a veteran researcher of jihadist groups, told us that another ISIS surge and land grab is unlikely in the near term. Instead, ISIS will probably retain its core in Iraq especially, but in Syria as well—as Zelin noted, the group is comfortable underground in its territory and has survived this way before—with connections to supporters and affiliates around the globe. From there, it can bide its time, pursuing a long-term vision that its leaders have called a “generational strategy,” Zelin said. “They see this as a battle of attrition, and that eventually they’re going to wear everyone out. They’re not rigid in their thinking, and they’re willing to evolve.”

31 October
ISIL confirms death of leader al-Baghdadi, names new chief
Leader killed in US raid replaced by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, group says, also confirming spokesman’s death.
(Al Jazeera) Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, ISIL’s new spokesman, made the announcement on Thursday in an audio statement distributed by the group’s media arm, al-Furqan, days after a weekend raid by US forces that resulted in al-Baghdadi’s death.
The seven-minute statement did not provide any other details about the new leader and it was not immediately clear who the name was in reference to. ISIL usually identifies its leaders using noms de guerre that refer to their tribal affiliation and lineage. Those names often change.

29 October
5 lessons from the death of Baghdadi
(Brookings) Success has a thousand fathers, and it’s too early to know who exactly did what when it comes to the
reported killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Every agency and ally will want to claim some share of the credit. Although the specifics remain elusive, what we do know about the raid that led to his death — and its consequences — illustrates a series of lessons about US counterterrorism since 9/11, when the United States put the fight against groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State at the top of its priority list.
The US Kurdish allies in Syria — the same ones the United States abandoned when it abruptly withdrew most of its forces from Syria and greenlit a Turkish invasion — reportedly played a key role in providing intelligence for the raid. So, too, did Iraqi allies. This is the norm, not the exception. Much of the intelligence war on terrorism is done by, with, and through allies, which have on-the-ground information as well as a capacity to act locally, neither of which can be replaced without massive US troop deployments.
If the United States is going to fight global terrorist groups like the Islamic State, it will need a range of allies. Some are traditional friends and powerful states, like Australia and France, that have their own counterterrorism assets and operate in areas like Indonesia or West Africa where the United States has historically played little role. Others are local tribes and militias, whose forces are in direct contact with militants in remote parts of Somalia, Yemen, and other areas where jihadists are active. These allies risk the lives of their fighters and otherwise sacrifice to the cause of counterterrorism, and Americans should be grateful.

With Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gone, what next for ISIL?
ISIL chief is dead but threat of his group remains, leaders and analysts warn, as speculation over next leader begins.
(Al Jazeera) Analysts said the list of potential successors appeared to be short, with Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on ISIL, noting that two potential candidates stand out: Abu Othman al-Tunsi and Abu Saleh al-Juzrawi, who is also known as Hajj Abdullah.
The first – a Tunisian national – heads ISIL’s Shura Council, a legislative and consultative body, al-Hashemi told AFP news agency.
The second – a Saudi – runs the group’s so-called Delegated Committee, an executive body, he said.
Trump says likely successor to ISIS leader Baghdadi killed by US forces – A US official told CNN that “the President was referring to ISIS spokesperson Abu Hasan al-Muhajir.”

28 October
Editorial: The Guardian view on Baghdadi’s death: not enough to destroy Islamic State
The sociology of violence espoused by Isis will only be defeated by a political project that transcends the religious, nationalist and ethnic schisms in the region
The US will need all the help it can get to defeat terrorism in the Middle East. The death of Baghdadi is a blow to Isis but not a mortal one. Following the loss of its citadels, it had become a loose, decentralised series of terrorist groupuscules, which allow followers to carry out its violent ideology on their own. Baghdadi was no fighter, he was an ideologue, and under him the Isis security and military apparatus had been mainly controlled, analysts thought, by a group of former Iraqi army officers. To defeat Isis would require the Sunni community in the Levant to rise up against the organisation and its affiliates, as it did in 2007 in Iraq with the “sahawat” or “awakenings” of tribes who turned against terrorism. This is made more difficult with the chaos and instability in the region. From the protests in the streets of Iraq and Lebanon to the wars of Yemen and Libya, it seems that the “nation state” and its political system are witnessing a slow disintegration in many parts of the Middle East.
What is troubling is that instead of a global coalition being maintained against the threat of Isis, the linchpin of such an alliance – the US – is crippled by its commander-in-chief’s capricious nature. The extent of the group’s terrible reach can be gauged by the fact that more than 40,000 foreign fighters are thought to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist groups. The sociology of violence espoused by Isis has been exported abroad – with a spate of deadly attacks around the world last year. While the Middle East is embroiled in a vicious cycle of crisis, the world will be cursed by terrorism
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Ugly Legacy
The instincts and strategy attributed to the ISIS leader illustrate why his terror group is likely to survive his death.
(The Atlantic) Baghdadi’s death, and the demise of his so-called caliphate, shouldn’t be underestimated. That ISIS controlled a hard-line state, and could offer recruits the chance to live its nihilist vision, was integral to what made it such a radical sensation, and was key to Baghdadi’s recruiting power. Now both the caliph and the caliphate are gone. Yet ISIS survives underground, lurking in the shadowy manner Baghdadi helped to define for it.

27 October
Trump says Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blew himself up as U.S. troops closed in
(WaPo) President Trump on Sunday announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive Islamic State commander, died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, an important breakthrough more than five years after the militant chief launched a self-proclaimed caliphate that inspired violence worldwide.
“Last night the United States brought the world’s Number One terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said in a televised announcement from the White House. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone.”
In what the president called a “dangerous and daring” nighttime operation, helicopters inserted a team of American Special Operations troops into a volatile area of northwest Syria, where they began an assault on a militant compound culminating in a retreat by Baghdadi into an underground hideaway. There, in a “dead-end tunnel,” Trump said, the militant leader detonated an explosive vest, killing himself and three of what were believed to be his six children.
One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details, said that troops from Delta Force, an elite military unit, conducted the operation with support from the CIA and Kurdish forces. The official said Baghdadi had been located in large part thanks to the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies had intensified their focus on Idlib because of militants there with loose links to al-Qaeda.

Photograph from Al-Furqan Media / Reuters
Robin Wright: ISIS’s Leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the World’s Most Wanted Man—Is Dead
Though Baghdadi’s death does not end the threat of the Islamic State, experts called it a major advance in the decades-long campaign against jihadi extremism.
(The New Yorker) Baghdadi gained global notoriety after his ragtag militia of jihadis exploited the chaos in Syria, in 2013, to build a base of operations and expand into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—or ISIS. It began luring tens of thousands of fighters, from five continents. In 2014, Baghdadi’s men blitzed across the border into Iraq, sucking up land, besieging major cities, slaughtering local men who refused to join ISIS, enslaving women, and forcing the far larger and better-equipped Iraqi Army to flee. By July, ISIS held a third of Syria and a quarter of Iraq—redrawing the map of the Middle East and creating a caliphate roughly the size of Britain. It stretched from the Turkish border all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad and reached within twenty-five kilometres of the border with Iran. Baghdadi ruled over some eight million people. His caliphate thrived financially by selling oil from northeastern Syria, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from banks, extorting businesses, and levying taxes.
In a striking comment, Trump thanked several other parties for unspecified coöoperation in the U.S. raid. He cited the Kurds in the Syrian Democratic Forces, Russia, Iraq, Turkey, and even Syria’s Assad regime. After Trump’s announcement, the S.D.F. commander, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, tweeted, “For five months there has been joint intel cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring, until we achieved a joint operation to kill Abu Bakir al-Bagdadi.” Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw most American forces from Syria, Mazloum tweeted that the joint U.S.-and-S.D.F. campaign against ISIS is “going strong and soon there will be other effective operations.” (The Syrian Democratic Forces, which lost eleven thousand troops fighting the ground war against ISIS, now holds about twelve thousand ISIS prisoners and another seventy thousand family members.)
… ISIS has survived earlier leadership losses, including a U.S. air strike that killed [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi], in 2006. Zarqawi was an early architect of the movement and helped it survive the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, in 2006, and also the tribal awakening, in 2007. ISIS may try to do it again. “ISIS has a blueprint, which it has already been following, that mirrored what they did the last decade during similar setbacks,” Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadi movements at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. “ISIS, no doubt, was grooming potential replacements and what could happen next. I would be surprised if much changed on a day-to-day basis in the near-to-medium term.”
“Ideally, we would use this significant event to consolidate positions and uproot ISIS networks with intelligence gained from the site,”[ Brett McGurk, the former U.S. Presidential envoy to the campaign against ISIS ] said. He acknowledged, however, that “that will be harder to do after the events of the last month in northeast Syria,” from which President Trump abruptly ordered the pullout of American Special Forces soldiers.
Al Jazeera: Who was ISIL’s self-proclaimed leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
Born Ibrahim Awad al-Samarrai near the Iraqi capital Baghdad, ISIL’s self-proclaimed ‘caliph’ killed in US raid aged 48
Bigger than bin Laden? 3 striking things about Trump’s announcement that Baghdadi is dead. … In the hours before Trump’s news conference, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said it was a joint operation between them and the United States. Trump portrayed the U.S.-allied Kurds, who have carried the brunt of the recent U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria and whose value as allies Trump has minimized, as playing more of a bit part. When Trump initially thanked others, in fact, he mentioned Russia first, then Syria, Turkey and Iraq. He added that there was also “certain support [the Kurds] were able to give us.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed in US raid, Trump confirms
(The Guardian) Baghdadi’s death is likely to be a significant fillip for Trump, who has faced withering criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for withdrawing troops from north-eastern Syria, effectively allowing Turkey to move against the US’s Kurdish allies in the region.
Trump’s critics have claimed the Syrian pullout would allow Isis to resurge in Syria and pose a renewed threat to US interests – arguments that could be blunted by the latest operation, even if the risk from remnants of the militant group remains.
Baghdadi’s death is a devastating blow to a terror group that had run rampant across the region for five years from mid-2014, spawning gruesome terrorist attacks across the world, amplifying a mass refugee exodus and sparking a war to contain it that killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.
Throughout, Baghdadi remained the face of Isis: a fearsome, implacable ideologue who eluded the world’s intelligence agencies while continuing to incite a war of civilisations.
Though long speculated to be a possible hideout, Idlib had been thought by many regional officials to be too risky a proposition for Baghdadi, who was more accustomed to the deserts of Iraq, where his organisation had risen.
For days, US officials had feared Isis would seek to capitalise on the upheaval in Syria. But they also saw a potential opportunity in which Isis leaders might break from more secretive routines to communicate with operatives, potentially creating a chance for the US and its allies to detect them.
Nowhere left to run: how the US finally caught up with Isis leader Baghdadi
It was an end as murderous as his six-year reign, and no less gruesome.

15-16 October
ISIS Is Already Rising From the Ashes
Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Will Fuel a Jihadi Resurgence
By Brian Katz and Michael Carpenter
(Foreign Affairs) A U.S.-led military coalition succeeded in toppling the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State, known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria just this past March. Remarkably, only around 2,000 U.S. troops took part in this effort, a tiny fraction of those deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at the heights of those wars. The key to success in Syria was that the United States worked “by, with, and through” local militia forces, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone was the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The reality is that ISIS and al Qaeda were enjoying a resurgence even before Trump’s withdrawal and the Turkish invasion—ISIS in eastern Syria and al Qaeda in the west of the country. Now, with the United States headed for the exits, the Kurds battling Turkey, and the Assad regime and its backers focusing on other priorities, no force is left to counter an extremist revival.
Further conflict will only fuel radicalization, which will once again destabilize the region and pose threats to Israel, Europe, and even the United States. Tragically, a few years from now, Syria will be right back where it was before the campaign against ISIS: suffering from chaos and conflict, with terrorism ascendant.
Trump’s Syria withdrawal is a boon for ISIS — and a nightmare for Europe
(Brookings) With the surprise withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria and the subsequent — and immediate — commencement of Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces, chaos has ensued. Kurdish forces are claiming that hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped at the Ain Issa detention facility while fighting raged nearby, while two officials told the New York Times that the U.S. military had failed to secure 60 or so high-value detainees before its forces departed.
President Donald Trump, however, has assured Americans that his new approach would not prove a threat to the U.S. homeland, saying, “They’re going to be escaping to Europe.”
Europeans, to be sure, will not find this reassuring. Given the thousands of Europeans who went to fight for the Islamic State and the problems Europe has had with jihadist terrorism in general, they should be alarmed by the U.S. abandonment of the Syrian Kurds and the possible escape of large numbers of ISIS prisoners. The good news is that the potential threat illustrates the counterterrorism progress made in the years since 9/11, but the end of the U.S. role in Syria is clearly bad news.

7 June
Mystery crop fires scorch thousands of acres in Syria and Iraq — and ISIS claims responsibility
This was supposed to be the year the farmers of eastern Syria and Iraq bounced back. For the first time in a decade, neither war nor drought had intervened to deter what promised to be a bumper harvest. Fields of golden wheat rippled across the vast lands once ravaged by militant fighters, the most fertile area of the region that in centuries past served as the breadbasket of the known world.
Then came the mysterious crop fires — blamed on and claimed by the Islamic State, but perhaps not entirely the work of the militants.
Starting in early May, tens of thousands of acres of farmland have been burned across an expanse of territory stretching from the Iranian border in the east to near the Mediterranean coast in the west. The scorch marks across the landscape are visible from satellites. The plumes of smoke rising on the horizon recall the U.S.-led airstrikes that pummeled much of the area a few years ago.
The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the earliest of the fires and urged its followers to ignite more. “The harvest season is still long, and we tell the soldiers of the Caliphate: you have before you millions of dunams of land planted with wheat and ­barley, which are owned by apostates,” said the statement published by the Islamic State’s al-Naba newsletter, according to a translation by the SITE monitoring service, exhorting supporters to set more fires.
… The military defeat of the militants has meanwhile brought no political solutions to the bigger question of who should govern these long-disputed areas. Grievances fester, and blame has been leveled among all players in the conflicts.
Arabs and Kurds have accused one another both in Syria and Iraq. Some fires in Iraq have been set in areas far from the traditional Arab-Kurdish land disputes, drawing allegations that Iran was behind them in a bid to force Iraq to buy Iranian wheat.

29 April
For five years, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hadn’t been seen publicly. But on Monday the Islamic State released a 12-minute video of Baghdadi in which he sits cross-legged and is flanked by a rifle—an indication that he’s neither dead nor disabled. Since 2014, the last time Baghdadi gave a speech, reports have swirled about his demise, most notably the Russian claim that he died in an air strike two years ago. But unlike past Baghdadi speeches when ISIS was presiding over a vast territory, this video mostly forgoes soaring rhetoric. “Now as an insurgent leader again, he has dispensed with the fanciness.

24 April
Don’t Call It a Comeback: By claiming responsibility for the devastating Easter Day attacks in Sri Lanka, the Islamic State showed why it’s premature to celebrate its defeat. ISIS may have been pushed out of Syria, but its global influence is growing, Jonah Shepp writes in “The ‘Caliphate’ Is Defeated, But ISIS Is Just Getting Started.” It has recently claimed responsibility for attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Philippines. ISIS may no longer hold land, but the “threat of terrorist violence by returnees from Syria, local terrorist groups that affiliate themselves with ISIS, or from individuals radicalized online by the group’s slick jihadist propaganda will remain a generational problem around the world.”
(New York) If Sunday’s bombings inflame religious tensions in Sri Lanka, sow distrust among its faith communities, and destabilize the country’s politics, that very much suits ISIS’s purposes. The Christian community can’t be blamed if it loses faith in the government’s ability to keep them safe, nor can Muslims necessarily expect much protection from retaliatory violence. As the Sri Lankan government scrambles to root out other individuals linked to the bombings and crack down on extremists, it may engage in torture and other human-rights abuses, which will serve as fodder to radicalize future terrorists and help jihadist ideology take root in a place where it had little purchase before.

23 April
Pressure builds on Sri Lankan officials as Isis claims Easter attacks
Bombings that killed more than 320 people have hallmarks of Isis, say security experts
(The Guardian) Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people, the group’s Amaq news agency has said, with experts saying the attacks bear the hallmarks of the group.
It is the deadliest overseas operation claimed by Isis since it proclaimed its “caliphate” almost five years ago, and would suggest it retains the ability to launch devastating strikes around the world despite multiple defeats in the Middle East.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said on Tuesday that there were more explosives and militants “out there”, and acknowledged there had been a prior warning about potential attacks. Some officials would likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses, he said.
Wickremesinghe also revealed there had been a failed attack against a fourth major hotel, and that the Indian embassy was also a possible target.
One emerging theory among western and south Asian security officials was that Sri Lankans who had fought for Isis in Syria or Iraq may have been “connectors” linking extremists in their home country with experienced terrorists elsewhere.
Analysts have repeatedly stressed that Isis continues to retain the ability to motivate recruits and attract new members, despite the destruction of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

16 April
Robin Wright: The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS
(The New Yorker) After five years of war with the Islamic State, the biggest problem for the winners is coping with the losers. The aftermath has produced one of the world’s most perplexing postwar challenges: there are tens of thousands of captured ISIS members whom no nation wants to repatriate, and the local militia holding them has neither the resources nor the personnel to keep them indefinitely. More than five thousand ISIS fighters surrendered in the final month of fighting alone. Thousands more were captured earlier in the conflict.
“There is nothing else in the world that compares to this unprecedented humanitarian and security situation, which is legally complicated and politically fraught,” a senior State Department official told me. So far, the local Syrian Democratic Forces militia (S.D.F.), the U.S.-led coalition of more than seventy countries, and several international relief agencies have been improvising—total ad-hockery, in the words of a senior U.S. military commander involved in Syria.

29 March
(The Atlantic): The Islamic State is on the decline, but the group’s founder has so far eluded capture. ISIS’s leadership has been hallowed out, but does getting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the man sitting at the top of the food chain—really matter? The decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden might give some insight; after he was killed in a dramatic raid in 2011, the group still survived without its figurehead. Though capturing Baghdadi would of course be a PR victory, it might not do all that much to hasten ISIS’s demise: To protect himself, Baghdadi scampers between safe houses and eschews communications equipment, which has limited his effectiveness as a leader.

24 March
All ISIS Has Left Is Money. Lots of It.
Even without a physical state, the Islamic State can still fund its main product: political violence.
(The Atlantic) Abu Shawkat—not his real name—is part of the hawala system, which is often used to transfer cash between places where the banking system has broken down or is too expensive for some to access. If he agrees to do business, you’ll set a password and he will take your cash, then provide you with the contact information of a hawala broker in the city where your money is headed. Anyone who offers that specific password to that particular broker will get the funds. Thus, cash can travel across borders without any inquiry into who is sending or receiving it, or its purpose.

20 March
Trump says ISIS will be ‘gone by tonight
U.S.-backed Syrian forces seized control of an ISIS encampment on Tuesday after hundreds of fighters surrendered overnight, the AP reported. The victory was a major advance, but not the final defeat, of the group in Baghouz, the last village held by ISIS in Syria.

18 March
Trump Says ISIS Is Defeated. Reality Says Otherwise.
The radicalized children of the Islamic State will threaten the world for generations to come unless the president changes course.
(Politico) Just two weeks after President Donald Trump triumphantly declared the “100 percent” defeat of ISIS’s caliphate, his national security advisor, John Bolton, admitted on television that “the ISIS threat will remain” and that this explained why a small “observer force” would now stay in Syria. Next, senior administration officials announced that 200 U.S. troops are set to stay in northeastern Syria as part of a “multinational observer force,” with another 200 to remain in al-Tanf, an encampment near the border with Iraq, to deter Iranian behavior. Then on March 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military was “crafting plans to keep nearly 1,000 forces in Syria” in what the newspaper described as “a decisive shift away” from Trump’s order to withdraw.
So long as no other governments step up to replace the departing American troops, the U.S. will be forced to continue to shoulder the burden in Syria, virtually guaranteeing a return to a full withdrawal. With the U.S. 2020 election cycle slowly kicking into gear, and despite domestic polling showing a majority of Americans actually favor remaining engaged militarily in Syria, President Trump remains highly unlikely to back something that he campaigned so strongly against and has remained committed to ending ever since. And with that black cloud hanging over Syria and the fight against ISIS, no foreign ally is likely to put its faith into what looks, to all extents and purposes, like untenable ideas presented to them by U.S. officials who ultimately still matter little in comparison to their commander-in-chief.
Worse, still, is the fact that ISIS lives on despite the president’s claims to the contrary. In Iraq, ISIS attacks are rising month-on-month after a to-be expected winter lull. In February, ISIS conducted an average of four attacks every day; Mosul has been hit by multiple car bombs in recent weeks; and most rural areas liberated from ISIS have been abandoned, left lying in ruins. Next door in Syria, ISIS’s last sliver of territory in Baghouz amounts to little more than a quarter of a square kilometer, but the group’s battle lines have barely changed after five weeks of fighting. Elsewhere, the jihadist group still runs night-time checkpoints across eastern Syria; deadly attacks are on the rise and intricate networks of sleeper cells lie in waiting.

7 January
The True Origins of ISIS
A secret biography suggests that Abu Ali al-Anbari defined the group’s radical approach more than any other person.
By Hassan Hassan, Co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
Most historians of the Islamic State agree that the group emerged out of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a response to the U.S. invasion in 2003. They also agree that it was shaped primarily by a Jordanian jihadist and the eventual head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian had a dark vision: He wished to fuel a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and establish a caliphate. Although he was killed in 2006, his vision was realized in 2014—the year ISIS overran northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
Narratives about the origins of Islamic State ideology often focus on the fact that Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, both Sunni extremists, diverged on the idea of fighting Shiites and on questions of takfir, or excommunication. Such differences, the story goes, were reinforced in Iraq and eventually led to the split between ISIS and al-Qaeda. Based on this set of assumptions, many conclude that Zarqawi must have provided the intellectual framework for ISIS.
Recently, I came to question the conventional wisdom. The groundwork for ISIS was arguably laid long before the invasion, and if there was one person responsible for the group’s modus operandi, it was Abdulrahman al-Qaduli, an Iraqi from Nineveh better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Ali al-Anbari—not Zarqawi. It was Anbari, Zarqawi’s No. 2 in his al-Qaeda years, who defined the Islamic State’s radical approach more than any other person; his influence was more systematic, longer lasting, and deeper than that of Zarqawi.

Comments are closed.