ISIS: WHAT NEXT AFTER RAQQA AND MOSUL?

ISIS has recently suffered heavy defeats on the battlefield. When the group first gained prominence in 2014, it prided itself as being a caliphate with “headquarters” in Raqqa, Syria, and also firmly implanted in Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. Through an extremely brutal rule, the sect commanded great fear amongst the local populace- as they still do- and also made the international community very wary.

With control over large territories and access to funds via taxes imposed on Government officials, ransom monies from kidnappings and funds from oil sales etc., ISIS quickly became the richest terrorist organization anywhere
in the world. A haven for young, confused souls, fighters flocked to Iraq and Syria in droves from all around the world.
ISIS has thrived largely on spreading fear and propaganda; but in the last couple of months, the momentum seems to be shifting- at least on the battlefield.
Earlier this year, the Syrian Army, backed by superior Russian intelligence, took back control of the historic city of Palmyra. The retake of Palmyra was seen as a symbolic, political and strategic victory for the Assad regime.

Symbolic because Palmyra houses some very revered historical artifacts, even though most of them were destroyed when ISIS overran the town. On the political front, the retake of Palmyra gave Bashir al-Assad some measure of a firmer hold on power and greater negotiating leverage at international peace talks. And on the strategic front, Palmyra sits in-between the Syrian-Iraqi border; and its recapture drove ISIS further into the desert.

The 2nd major front of attack against ISIS on the battlefield is the Iraqi Army advance towards Mosul. Backed by US advance and assist provisions, the Iraqi troops have cleared ISIS out from the towns South of Mosul, as they prepare to take the city. An onslaught is expected to be staged sometime soon, and it would surely deal a huge blow to the terror group.
In addition to increased airstrikes from coalition forces and also the Russian-Iranian alliance, ISIS has also faced increased onslaught from the fierce Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, on the Turkish-Syrian border.

With each military advance, the sect loses power and sees its battlefield positions weakened.
But then, what does this mean in the wider narrative? Does a defeat on the battlefield translate into a global halt of ISIS's movement? I don't think so.
Terror attacks around Europe and even in the USA remind us of the lone-Wolf…the unknown gunman who is fuelled by a wicked ideology, to inflict maximum pain on an unsuspecting population the ones who usually operate below the radar, planning away from the spotlight, and stepping in at an opportune moment to kill innocent lives. These are the offshoots of ISIS that the world must now worry about.

It would take more than a military operation- though highly essential- to subdue an ideology. It would take more than weeks, months and even a few years, to reduce to the barest minimum- if that's even possible- the seeds of terrorism, which this deadly group has planted all over the world.

After battlefield successes, world powers would now have to depend on major intelligence to nip terrorist threats in the bud, before they occur. But security officials cannot do it alone. Citizens themselves would have to be on alert, and do their part in offering up information about suspicious behavior/activity. The Muslim community would also need to step to the fore, and do its part in quelling the harsh rhetoric from senior Imams which steer up animosity and violence and instill hatred for other cultures/groups/religions in the minds of young Muslims.

The decimation of ISIS on the battlefield is by no means the end, but it does take away the narrative of a so-called 'caliphate', which the group thrives on. It also helps in a large way, to dismantle the operational hierarchy and network of the terror organization. But after all that is done, the work shifts to all of us, members of the larger global society. It would not be an easy task, but it can be done.
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