Even if Islamic State loses all of the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, it will continue to function and carry out attacks, the head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Center told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“The Islamic State insurgency will not end if or when all territory is recaptured in Iraq and Syria. The group will return to its pre-January 2015 operational model of destabilizing mass-casualty attacks in urban centers alongside low-level insurgent operations, ensuring that if it cannot fully control these cities, then neither will Baghdad or Damascus,” said Matthew Henman, head of the IHS JTIC.
This has already been observed in operations in Ramadi over the course of January, and this will be replicated in cities like Mosul, if or when they are recaptured by Baghdad, he said.
(Image courtesy of: IHS JANE’S TERRORISM AND INSURGENCY CENTRE)
“The current absence of a central state in Syria further highlights the difficulties that will be faced in the coming months/years in overturning Islamic State’s presence therein.
“Furthermore, the expansion of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate beyond Iraq and Syria means that the group’s campaign will not end even if every square inch of territory is recaptured in Iraq and Syria and every Islamic State militant there is killed,” he added.
Islamic State cannot be stopped by force alone, argued Henman.
Interestingly, Henman pointed out that attacks in Syria actually increased even after Russian air strikes began.
“Following the start of air strikes and Russian intervention in late September 2015, the number of Islamic State attacks in Iraq declined in the last quarter of the year; however, the number of attacks in Syria increased,” he said.
“This is somewhat a consequence of the growing pressure Islamic State has come under in Iraq,” Henman said.
“In Syria, the group has had more room to maneuver and, at least for the time being, retained the ability to relocate fighters between different front lines.”
According to IHS Jane’s JTIC database, there were a total of 935 attacks claimed by or attributed to Islamic State between 1 October and 31 December 2015, an average of 10.2 attacks per day.
This is a 5.6 percent decrease in the average daily attack numbers from the preceding quarter (1 July to 30 September).
However, the average daily attack figure was 5.2% higher than the preceding 12-month average of 9.7 attacks per day.
As pressure grows on Islamic State from the broad spectrum of actors arrayed against it and its territory comes under threat, the group is likely to deploy a relatively elastic defense, retreating from areas of less strategic value or where there is little to be gained by fighting, explained Henman.
Fighting against air strikes is a very costly proposition, he said.
Ramadi is a good example of a case where Islamic State decided to take a stand in order to inflict the maximum casualties on attacking forces, said Henman, adding that its defense took weeks to overcome and left well over 100 Iraqi security force personnel dead.