In Fight Against ISIS, a Lose-Lose Scenario Poses Challenge for West | Terror in Europe | FRONTLINE | PBS


ISIS has misplaced round 1 / 4 of the territory it as soon as held in Iraq and Syria. Essential commanders have died in airstrikes; an estimated 20,000 of its fighters have been killed. The group has run out of high-profile hostages to extract ransom for or publicly assassinate for propaganda functions.

The ISIS model wanted a facelift: Assaults in Paris, Beirut, and in opposition to a Russian airliner over the past three weeks — all of which ISIS has claimed credit score for — have given them that. At a time when ISIS is dealing with setbacks on the battlefield, its success in hanging targets past territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria has given its loyalists one thing to cheer about.

The horrible success of those assaults, analysts say, places Western powers in a lose-lose situation: Beating ISIS in its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria will seemingly encourage extra worldwide terrorism, because the group, clinging to energy and relevancy, seeks to strike again overseas.

Worse but, a whole collapse of its so-called caliphate might unlock tens of 1000’s of ISIS militants — presently busy defending that territory — to concentrate on terrorism.

This grim situation was drawn by analysts as Western leaders proceed to grapple over how finest to reply to the ISIS menace. Till not too long ago, its grisly attain appeared restricted to Iraq and Syria, and to components of North Africa, the Center East, Afghanistan and Asia the place it has elicited oaths of loyalty from previously-established extremist organizations.

However any notion that ISIS’s ways could be restricted to areas the place they already maintain sway was shattered because the group took credit score for the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt that killed 224; final week’s twin suicide bombing in Beirut they killed 43; and eventually, Friday’s assault on Paris that left 129 lifeless.

The assaults got here greater than 13 months since U.S.-led bombing in opposition to ISIS expanded from Iraq into Syria, an effort that President Barack Obama has defended regardless of requires a extra aggressive navy engagement.

“From the beginning, our purpose has been first to comprise, and we’ve got contained them,” Obama stated in an interview with ABC Information mere hours earlier than the assault on Paris. “They haven’t gained floor in Iraq. And in Syria it — they’ll are available in, they’ll go away. However you don’t see this systemic march by ISIL throughout the terrain.”

It’s the very success of that containment coverage that’s motivating the terrorist assaults, says analyst Clint Watts, a fellow on the Philadelphia-based Overseas Coverage Analysis Institute.

“A part of what has sustained ISIS in Syria and Iraq is battlefield success — they pursue battlefield successes and broadcast it on social media,” he stated. “They’re not having these. And so they’re truly shedding floor for the primary time since they took Mosul in June 2014. So every time you may’t discover the success you could maintain your fan community going, you begin to search for different choices.”

And it labored, famous analyst J.M. Berger, a fellow on the Brookings Establishment and the creator of the ebook, “ISIS: The State of Terror.” ISIS has misplaced territory close to the cities of Kirkuk and Ramadi and the Baiji district in Iraq, and components of northern Syria. Final Thursday, world media was reporting that ISIS was shedding Sinjar province in Iraq, which it held since August 2014. By Saturday, Berger famous, “the large story was ISIS is rampaging uncontrolled everywhere in the world.”

ISIS has at all times had the capability to terrorize the heartlands of its enemies, however has not deployed it till not too long ago as a result of they’d different technique of provocation, Berger stated.

“For some time they’d hostages they have been capable of provoke the West with, they usually didn’t should go anyplace to do it,” stated Berger.

Now that they not have a provide of Western hostages to use — just one is thought to nonetheless be held — they’ve moved into provocations overseas.

That is hardly a brand new tactic for extremist organizations: As an illustration, Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate that managed massive parts of Somalia, together with Mogadishu till 2011, has ramped up assaults in neighboring Kenya because it has misplaced territory in Somalia over the past 5 years.

“That is traditional playbook,” Watts stated. “Enrage the enemy, get them coming at this on all planes, and now you may rally the Muslim world in opposition to the West. That is precisely what unravels a containment technique, is you might have a terrorist assault, and everybody will get upset, after which they’re primed to take motion, which is strictly what ISIS desires.”

There may be appreciable debate about ISIS’s motivations for the worldwide assaults it’s now claiming credit score for. It could be a need for revenge in opposition to the West. It could be a calculation that the extra nations grow to be embroiled in a response to the Syrian civil struggle, the harder will probably be for the worldwide group to coordinate a response. It could be a need to jumpstart an apocalyptical battle with the West that spiritual texts favored by ISIS have predicted.

Regardless, ISIS has been express in stating such assaults assist drive individuals to their trigger, as counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir of the Institute of Research of Struggle described in The Washington Put up not too long ago. Islamic State publications earlier this 12 months stated that terrorist assaults will elicit a harsh anti-Muslim response from Western “crusaders,” which can in flip alienate and radicalize in any other case reasonable Muslims, Gambhir wrote.

“The group calculates {that a} small variety of attackers can profoundly shift the way in which that European society views its 44 million Muslim members, and in consequence, the way in which European Muslims view themselves. By means of this provocation, it seeks to set situations for an apocalyptic struggle with the West,” stated Gambhir.

The U.S. has up to now favored a extra reasonable response to the assaults. Its containment coverage, Watts defined, is designed to wall ISIS into more and more restricted territory and letting it fail as a consequence of its personal mismanagement, financial issues, and inside discord, relatively than due to the actions of a international oppressor.

“ISIS will get a variety of its cash by taking the wealth of the locations it captures, and we’ve held them again from any main conquests within the final months, so proper now they’re squeezing blood from a stone, economically talking,” stated Berger. “That’s not one thing they’ll do indefinitely, so in the event that they attain a tipping level, we might see ISIS collapse in a really quick period of time. The issue is we don’t actually understand how lengthy that may take to occur, and a variety of dangerous issues can occur between at times.”

However the extra “dangerous issues” occur, the much less palatable a gradual tempo of advance in opposition to ISIS will appear to Western leaders. Already, France has begun aggressive navy actions in response to final week’s assault, calling them an “act of struggle” by ISIS.

“The query is will the West have the endurance to let the containment coverage work,” stated Watts. “The entire concept of terrorism is to get the targets to overreact — and also you see it already right here, with the backlash at refugees, individuals calling for extra airstrikes, hitting targets that we’re probably not positive what they’re, simply to point out symbolically that we’re doing one thing.”

However shedding endurance and utilizing pure navy would possibly to decimate ISIS’s maintain on its territory would possibly do nothing to stem its worldwide terrorist ambitions, stated Berger.

“One difficulty is that they have already got lots of people deployed overseas. And a second difficulty is in case you went in with drive and took their territory away from them, you’re releasing up tens of 1000’s of fighters who’re presently concerned in policing the Islamic State, securing its borders, operating checkpoints — all these guys are free to do terrorism then, in the event that they don’t get killed within the assault,” Berger stated.  “When it comes to a contented ending any time quickly, I discover it laborious to think about.”

No matter strategy — containment or stepped-up navy aggression — the West is more likely to undergo extra assaults, as a result of there are such a lot of doubtlessly harmful individuals in Europe now, in line with Watts.

“The place (Western leaders) have fallen down is that they’ve let this drawback fester for 4 years,” he stated. “They let the borders in Turkey move, they let their very own residents move out and in of Turkey, they allow them to battle with (Al Qaeda affiliate) Al Nusra and ISIS, they’ve allow them to come again into the nation, they haven’t performed applications to counter violent extremism at house, they haven’t performed different applications to attempt to rehabilitate their communities — so what’s occurred in Paris is totally unsurprising to anyone who’s been watching the international fighter flows over the past 5 years.”


Katie Worth

Katie Price, Former Reporter, FRONTLINE