The International Campaign against ISIS
By The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Sunday, March 8th, 2015 @ 9:42PM
Left: Boko Haram, the militant Nigerian group, has announced it is allying with the Islamic State (Isis). The pledge was made in a film, appearing to be a recording of the group’s leader Abubakar Shjeka, which was posted online on March 7, 2015.
On September 10, 2014, American President Barack Obama announced the initiation of a comprehensive campaign against ISIS aimed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” it. The campaign strategy had several aspects: intensive airstrikes in Syria and Iraq; strengthening local forces in Syria and Iraq (the Iraqi army, the Kurdish forces, the so-called moderate Syrian rebel organizations); damaging ISIS’s sources of power (especially its financial resources); and improving the methods used by the United States and the international community to cope with the incidence of foreign fighters joining ISIS. All that was intended to weaken ISIS without significant American forces on the ground in Syria or Iraq.
The international campaign focuses on Iraq and Syria, however, during the past half year it has been faced with a series of challenges in other countries. The main challenges are the spread of ISIS to other Arab-Muslim countries; the influx of foreign fighters joining the ranks of the jihadi organizations; the increasing jihadi terrorism in Western countries and the strong attraction of Salafist-jihadi ideology in both the Arab-Muslim world and the Muslim communities in the West. As the coalition campaign continues, it will have to reexamine its concepts and strategies in the face of those challenges.
The coalition campaign against ISIS is expected to last several years (at least until 2019, according to some American estimates), and may extend beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq. However, at this point, half a year after the anti-ISIS campaign began, it is possible to give an initial assessment of its impact on ISIS, and of the strengths and weaknesses of the coalition’s strategies.
The first six months of the campaign indicate no clear-cut balance between success and failure:
- Syria and Iraq
- The coalition, with the support (significant, in ITIC assessment) of local forces, has succeeded in containing the spread of ISIS to other regions and has kept it from cleaning out pockets of resistance in extensive areas under its control (the provinces of Al-Anbar in Iraq and Deir al-Zor, Al-Raqqah and Al-Hasakah in Syria). ISIS’s most outstanding failure during the past half year was the blow dealt by the reinforced Kurdish YPG forces in Kobanî (Ayn al-Arab) after four months of fighting (which began after the coalition campaign began). In Tikrit, north of Baghdad, ISIS is currently facing an attack launched by the Iraqi army to retake the city.
- The coalition attacks resulted in a significant decrease in ISIS’ revenues, especially oil revenues. That harmed its ability to govern (i.e., providing civilian services to the large population under its control). However, the continuing airstrikes and the decrease in revenue have not yet shaken its hold over the extensive areas it conquered in Syria and Iraq, especially its two main strongholds, Mosul (Iraq) and Al-Raqqah (Syria).
- ISIS’s successes beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq:
- While contained in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is establishing itself in other Middle Eastern countries, using local jihadi organizations which swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and created “provinces” of the self-declared Islamic State. Its most prominent successes have been in Libya and Egypt (focused in the Sinai Peninsula). Thus ISIS has created a potential threat to Egypt, Israel, and the countries of North Africa and southern Europe.
- ISIS also had two important successes in the international arena the past half year: one was that the influx of foreign fighters who joined its ranks has continued (although it has faced certain difficulties created by the preventive measures taken by various countries). The other was that jihadist operatives in Western countries (not necessarily those who joined ISIS in Syria) responded positively to ISIS’s propaganda campaign and carried out attacks in their own countries against government and Jewish targets, especially in the coalition countries (so far apparently the attacks were not orchestrated or organized).
- ISIS’s jihadist ideology is spreading rapidly and its image and brand as a leading jihadi organization remain undamaged and intact. ISIS is ahead in its rivalry with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Al-Qaeda, at least for the present.
The full analysis is available on The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, originally published on March 4, 2015 as The International Coalition Campaign against ISIS – Initial Analysis* (First Six Months)