As ISIS loses Caliphate in Syria and Iraq are we ready for its fighters when they return home?
The cancer of the Islamic State has spread globally and it is now poised to carry out terror attacks abroad as it loses its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. There are unconfirmed reports that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has issued a statement called the 'farewell speech' which was distributed throughout Iraq in areas that the Islamic State still controls.
In the statement he urges his followers to carryout suicide attacks at home and to his foreign fighters that they return home to carry out suicide attacks in Western capitals. This statement, if true, comes with the US-backed Iraqi army seizure of the last major road out of western Mosul that had previously been in the Islamic State’s control. The Iraqi army captured the eastern half of Mosul in January after a 100 day offensive while carrying out air strikes on the Western half of the city to soften it up for a final showdown. The U.S. has said that it believes that within six months that both Mosul and Raqqa will fall, while the British are saying that Iraq will be cleared by the end of 2017. Mosul’s liberation in Iraq would signal the end of the Islamic State as an organized and effective fighting force. Similarly, the loss of Raqqa in Syria would crush the Islamic State there and end its Caliphate. All indications are that US-backed forces and air strikes are killing Islamic State fighters at a rate that is unsustainable for fighting the Iraqi army and western forces. It is estimated that some 45,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed by US-led coalition air strikes since August 2016. The US now believes that the number of Islamic State fighters is at its lowest ebb in more than two years. The Islamic State has lost 62 percent of its territory in Iraq and 30 percent in Syria. US Defense Secretary, James Mattis, is in the process now of putting the finishing touches on the Trump administrations plan to end this nightmare in the region.
Having said that, Baghdadi’s threat to the west is a matter of concern as the organization sheds its foreign fighters and they return home. There are worrying trends from the fighting in Iraq. First, the Islamic State has carried out unimaginable numbers of suicide attacks, on average 19 a week, and done so with relative success against waring Iraqi army units. Secondly, they have dramatically increased the use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in suicide attacks. Third, they have become very adept at using homemade and commercial drones as weapons. The Islamic State have reportedly used between three and five drones at a time in attacks armed with grenades or mortar shells. Fourth, the Islamic State fighters are without remorse or limit as some were videotaped attaching a bomb to a puppy to attack civilians. All these lessons learned by the Islamic State are likely to find their way back with foreign fighters as the return home to the west. Some will try and melt back into life as though nothing ever happened, and some will be active jihadis waiting to strike western and Asian targets including China, and to inspire others to do the same. There already reports of Islamic State fighters trying to flee Mosul hiding among refugees.
How long will it be before our Islamic State fighters return home and are we ready? We may think that the fighting is over, that the Islamic State is degraded and that we have destroyed its capacity to plan, direct, support, and execute operations abroad but as General retired, Jim Mattis, would say, the “enemy gets a vote.”