Friday, August 22, 2014

Islamic State, What's Next?

US CENTCOM has reported that it has conducted 93 airstrikes against IS since beginning combat operations on August 8. US air support has helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces take back the Mosul dam from IS militants; a critical victory for Northern Iraq.

Removing the Daash Flag, Originally posted on Twitter

However, IS made ground on the social media battlefield after uploading the execution of American journalist James Foley. As many have noted, social media has been a critical tool for the IS terror campaign. Consequently, many online users have called for the removal of IS accounts on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Many accounts have been removed on the grounds of violating site rules (i.e. posting disturbing images). These actions have neither stopped IS supporters from making new accounts, nor have they prevented IS from using other social media platforms.

It appears that the momentum following the June blitzkrieg made by IS has significantly slowed after the US began airstrikes. So what happens next for IS?

In order to maintain their current territory in both Syria and Iraq, they must continue to commit a considerable number of resources to waging conventional warfare. Fortunately for IS, they have no shortage of financial resources. If foreign military assistance and Iraqi security forces can continue to apply pressure, IS money may amount to little in terms of defending territory. At that point, IS may shift priorities and focus solely on conducting guerrilla warfare and hallmark terrorist activities. For example, IS has already been responsible for car bombings, suicide bombings, kidnappings/executions, and roadside IEDs. 

Should IS reach that point, the most concerning possibility would be an attempt by IS to build a strong global network similar to Al-Qaeda. IS has dominated the social media landscape, making it very easy to reach out to supporters and potential recruits. However, IS succeeded in distancing itself from other terrorist organizations due to a level of brutality similar to that of a Mexican drug cartel. It may have good financial connections, but IS may need to rediscover common ground if they plan to achieve a truly global reach on par with organizations such as Al-Qaeda. 

It is likely that the next challenge for defeating IS will be reclaiming the major cities of Mosul and Raqqa; locations in which IS strictly enforce sharia law and recruit members. Even with air support, the fight for these cities will not be easy. These locations are IS strong points and will be necessary for reclaiming both Syria and Iraq. 

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