Victory against ISIS – game over?

Is that the end of ISIS?

December 12, 2017 22:44
3 minute read.
Victory against ISIS – game over?

A VIOLINIST in Mosul plays in the ruins of a building after liberation from Islamic State.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Baghdad recently declared victory over Islamic State. Additionally, the Russian government claimed that as of the end of this year, ISIS and its organized military structure will no longer exist in Syria.

Is that the end of ISIS? At the beginning of 2013 ISIS overran large parts of Iraq and Syria, proclaiming the “Islamic caliphate.”

Varying sources estimated their military power at roughly 50,000 fighters. ISIS reached its peak in mid 2015, when it controlled a huge region ranging from the Mediterranean coast of Syria to southern Baghdad.

From 2016 to 2017 ISIS lost 70% of its former territory.

In a sense ISIS’s main goal of constructing an Islamic caliphate came to an end. However, the organization itself did not. ISIS still exists but has taken on a different form. Thus, the terrorist threat posed by ISIS is not over yet – it is still a major threat for the region as well as for Europe.

There are five main arguments supporting this presumption.

Firstly, although ISIS lost all recent battles, it has an estimated 6,000 fighters still in the region, and they are not giving up on their vision of a caliphate. They still believe they can construct state centered in the Euphrates River valley, which for the peaceful and democratic future of Syria, as well as for the region, is a source of instability.

Secondly, there is still a large desert area controlled by ISIS. Neither the Kurdish nor the Syrian governments are showing any signs of wanting to start a military campaign to regain or liberate the region. ISIS will therefore continue to control the area over the next couple of years. It is even likely that it will operate from there using guerrilla tactics.

Furthermore, ISIS is steadily gaining strength in other countries while the world is solely focusing on Syria and Iraq. After having lost power in both Iraq and Syria, it will try to gain foothold in other Islamic countries. In mid 2016 it announced the establishment of the Khorasan branch, covering parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, as well as India.

It is no secret that ISIS has stationed itself in Libya for years; mainly in the coastal city of Sirte. As the recent attack in Sinai showed, it could also expand to the Sinai area. This would enable them to base attacks toward Egypt or Jordan from there. Moreover, ISIS could take advantage of the power vacuum in Yemen to build a progressively strong foothold there. It has also heightened their presence in other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Russia. All of this means that ISIS will continue to expand its worldwide network in order to survive and to maintain its military power.

Point number four being that different sources estimate between 27,000 and 31,000 foreigners from at least 86 countries to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS – more than 1,000 from Germany alone.

After crushing their dream of establishing an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq, a great number of them tried to return to Europe and other home countries.

The fact that most of them have been indoctrinated poses huge social as well as security challenges for their home countries. In Germany, according to estimates by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (“Verfassungsschutz”), there are currently 1,100 Islamists ready to use violence.

Last but not least, we must not forget that ISIS has an extensive network of recruiters and supporters throughout Europe. According to British security officials for instance, there are 23,000 jihadists living in UK. They operate on social media, releasing propaganda aimed at Western audiences to encourage supporters to attack without even having communicated with ISIS. These calls for action have led to several successful attacks in Germany and France.

All in all ISIS has been banned from several regions in Iraq and Syria. Yet it remain present in the minds of thousands of jihadists. They hold on to both their ideology and their global network to organize attacks anywhere in the world.

The author is a senior researcher in field of migration at Kassel University in Germany.(

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