Why Islamic State changed its strategy

"There are various interpretations that might be made, but the most compelling is that IS has been weakened by international coalition air-strikes."

November 25, 2015 20:35
2 minute read.

ISIS sets sites on Washington in new video. (photo credit: ISLAMIC SOCIAL MEDIA)


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Over the past few years Islamic State has gone from focusing on the West and Israel to attacking other Muslim countries. They wanted to first unite the Muslim world and change the geographic boundaries of the Middle East, before turning their weapons against Europe and the United States.

IS believes that it has to fight against “fake” Muslims, meaning Muslims who do not practice Sharia law. In most of its propaganda testimonials, while there are brief threat messages to the Western states, the focus is mostly on regional and local authorities. Thus the grotesque terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 raise a questions: why did IS suddenly change its strategy and attack the French government, and sent threat messages to other Western countries? There are various interpretations that might be made, but the most compelling is that IS has been weakened by international coalition air-strikes.

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Air-strikes by the US-led coalition have curbed the movement of the jihadists, allegedly destroyed IS battle positions, arsenals and control facilities. They have effectively degraded the terrorists’ capability to achieve its regional strategic goals.

Kurds, the biggest ground force in the region fighting against IS in Iraq and Syria have managed to expel IS from several strategic areas. So far in 2015 IS has lost over 10 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria. According to Kurdish YPG media, IS has also lost more than 11,000 fighters in the fighting for Kobani. This in addition to IS being driven out of Girê Spî (Tell Abyad), a main border crossing which served as an important transit for jihadists traveling from Turkey to Syria, as well as a major trafficking route.

The re-taking of Sinjar, the city that the Yazidi minority group were displaced from last summer, was another demonstration of the terrorist organization’s lack of manpower and fighting ability.

All these factors have compelled IS to change its strategy, shifting to an al-Qaida- style approach of attacking Western targets. The goal is to maintain its power in the region and attract new fighters. In other words, IS’s impotence in the face of coalition air power has driven it from the defensive to the offensive; its attacks in the heart of Europe may thus be the beginning of a new “storm.”

In a newly released video it threatened attacks against all Western countries participating in the US-led coalition.

The jihadists say in the video: “We say to the states which take part in the crusade that you, by God’s will, will have a day as France. Like we attack France in their capital Paris, we swear that we will attack the United States in their capital, Washington.”

The goal of Islamic State’s new strategy is to deepen the polarization in those European countries with large Muslim- minority populations.

This strategic shift on IS’s part should not be underestimated; this group has so far been very successful in establishing itself in Western countries and recruiting young people from the new generation of immigrants.

The author is a freelance journalist.

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