A ‘lasting defeat’ of the Islamic State will be elusive


As the Iraqi government and Coalition forces launched the offensive to retake Mosul, the US military has optimistically said that the campaign will deal a “lasting defeat” to the Islamic State. But, if the recent history of the fight against jihadist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is any indicator, a lasting defeat of the Islamic State will remain elusive.

On Oct. 16, the US military made the claim that the Mosul operation will “deliver ISIL [Islamic State] a lasting defeat” [emphasis mine]:

Tonight Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of Iraqi operations to liberate Mosul from ISIL. This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat. The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead. We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.

Keep in mind that many analysts were quick to pronounce the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, as defeated after the US surge that began in 2007 rooted out the jihadists from its sanctuaries across Iraq. By 2010, Iraqi and US forces killed the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, and War Minister Abu Ayyub al Masri a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Muhajir, and the group was driven underground. But these setbacks did not deter the Islamic State of Iraq. Its new leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi rallied the Islamic State of Iraq’s remaining forces and reconstituted the organization. In Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq took advantage of the Syrian civil war to rebuild its strength. By 2012, it created the Al Nusrah Front, its branch in Syria, and was launching large scale raids inside Iraq, such as the one in Haditha in March 2012, that presaged the events of 2014, which saw Iraqi forces defeated in Anbar, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Diyala.

The Islamic State is not alone in its phoenix-like rebirth after losing ground to local forces backed by the US. Al Qaeda branches in Somalia, Yemen, and Mali, have experienced major setbacks and lost ground it held, only to regroup and retake territory. The same is true with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Taliban branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each of these countries have been in a state of perpetual war for well over a decade due to jihadist insurgencies.

In Iraq, the political and security situation is ripe for an eventual Islamic State (or whatever jihadist entity may follow it) comeback. There are large rural areas in Iraq still under Islamic State control today, and it is highly unlikely that Iraqi forces will root out the Islamic State from all of these areas. Syria remains a security nightmare, and even with recent Islamic State losses, it still controls large areas. Iraq remains a fractured state divided between the Shia-led government, which is under pressure from Iran, the marginalized Sunnis that make up the recruiting base for the Islamic State, and the Kurds, who seek independence. The Islamic State has deftly taken advantage of Iraq’s political and sectarian fault lines to stoke the fires of conflict. Iran’s machinations in Iraq and its Shia militias provide the Islamic State all of the recruiting fodder it needs to convince Sunnis to join the fight.

The fight in Iraq, as in other jihadist theaters, ebbs and flows. For the Islamic State, it is currently retreating from many of the cities and towns in Iraq and Syria that it once held. But do not expect a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. The Islamic State has survived the full might of the US surge, and was able to regroup, wage a terrorist insurgency, and build an army that overran large areas of Iraq and Syria, all over the course of four years.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Truth Finder says:

    The conclusion is to cut head of snake .
    it’s evil regime of Tehran . They created Daesh , Hezbollah, Shia militia and now Houthis

  • Evan says:

    Absolutely right Mr.Roggio, IS, AQ, and many others of their ilk have been decimated in the past, only to reconstitute, regroup, rebrand, and launch new campaigns of terror and mayhem.

    My question is, how do we defeat them, and achieve what they’re now saying they will achieve, a fatal blow, destruction of the enemies capability and will to fight, a genuine, permanent defeat of the enemy?
    Can it be done? People may say waging “total war,” is the answer, they may suggest that US forces enter the fray en masse, but I believe both of those proposals to be wrong.
    I don’t believe that air power, rifles, bullets and bombs can solve this. I don’t believe that overwhelming military power is the cure, it’s done some good in the past, but has ultimately failed.
    I believe that Iraqis, Kurds, Sunni, Shia, Christian, the people of Iraq, must do it.
    I believe that the Imams, pastors, and other religious leaders of Iraq must unite, and preach peace to the people, and convince them to utterly reject Daesh, together. Destroy Daesh’s, or IS’s claim to any and all religious legitimacy.
    Start there, and maybe it’ll work….?

  • Rocky says:

    It is a step in the right direction.

    I am thinking they will be easier lesser a threat when they have no strongholds to plan, recruit, and launch attacks from.

  • Aleksander Pierchalski says:

    It’s hard to deal ISIS a lasting defeat when it gets continued support from US proxy states like SA and Qatar. Since Hillary Clinton clearly knew about this as Sec. of State, we have to assume that the US finds ISIS a useful tool to weaken Iran by overthrowing Syria, but the invasion of Iraq by IS was simply a bridge to far.

  • Eradication no, lasting defeat… maybe? It seems to me that the loss of Mosul and of Raqqa would severely damage the prestige of ISIS, quell recruitment and put Daesh in a pretty deep hole.

  • Frank Dunn says:

    A. Would assume that the phrase “lasting defeat” was crafted at the instruction of the WH for Obama’s legacy. Retaking Mosul before Obama departs will be heralded as yet another of his major achievements. There will be no mention of why Mosul and other Iraqi cities had to be retaken, just as there is almost no mention of the 6,000 US troops back in Iraq.

    B. Not addressed by Obama, and clearly not asked by his loyal media, is what happens after Mosul is retaken? Will we once again withdraw all of our forces using the lack of a Status of Forces Agreement as the excuse even though there is no SoFA covering our nearly stealth return?

    C. If we leave, what will happen with Iraq’s weak central government
    D. If we stay, what will be our objective?

  • den says:

    The vacuum that was Syria back then, was the only thing that saved them. The US wasn’t about to follow because there would never be a better time to leave, as well as the sofa disagreement. IS has components in many areas so calling this’ their defeat’ is small minded. Hunting them all will take much longer if host countries, especially poor, uneducated ones, allow them to fester out of fear or ignorance.

  • Jim says:

    How can their organization be eradicated, in your opinion?

  • Suna is the best says:

    strategical retreat to savegarde their ressource and rebirth(come back) in their full strengh is an ongong wining strategy of al Qaeda even against NATO and was for Al Qaeda in Iraq before IS but the leadership of IS does not like that strategy . But really IS will be defeated but this shia militia (that are killing innocent sunni civilian)will only give the reason that sunni tribes men where waiting to wage a full large scalle slf defending war bewtem the sunni of iraq and any shii.

  • RanaSahib says:

    “A lasting defeat” is an irresistible sound bite to those with merely empty words of proclamation as placebo for their long suffering masses, just like George Bush landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring “Mission accomplished,” more than 13 years ago.

    Seems like we’re all living in the fateful Orwellian year 1984 with perpetual war.

    God have mercy on us all.

  • Nikhil Deshmukh says:

    A lasting defeat is not elusive- it is unfortunately for the present coalition unimaginable due to current geopolitics, and corruption among higher echelons of the coalition.
    Let’s rewind to 2009, and the LTTE in Srilanka , effective co-ordination between various agencies including CIA, RAW, NSA, CSIS and various European agencies led to an accurate picture of the developing situation in the LTTE leadership, especially the Hitler like bunker mentality that developed with Prabhakaran and others when they were pushed into a corner.
    By 2010 the LTTE was finished and the Tamil people pacified, now the Tamils are prosperous and free of the slave driver like yoke that the LTTE imposed on them – Like wise the other terrorist outfits- there is no nationality or core morals these are just bandits using religion, or ethnicity to corral people into their criminal objectives- much like Donald Trump trying to win because he is on his way to a huge bankruptcy, and needs govt contracts to keep his horrible enterprise going.
    Lets not give Baghdadi credit when its not due- simply hiding when bombs are falling and using civilians does not give you victory- from the days of Geseric, the vandals and the romans, to Hitler, and the Khmer rouge this has been the worst strategy ever – a sign of desperation, a last gasp of an awful regime, the facts in Aleppo and Mosul confirm that Baghdadi is coming undone – all human beings have an inner moral compass however fanatical they are,- continuous and illogical cruelty makes any human turn away from his ideals.
    So brethren take note these are just temporary travails, we shall overcome.

  • Venkatesh E says:

    As long as we continue to quarantine Faith from Ideology we are treating the symptoms and not the cause of such diabolical barbarity as is evident in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Liberal societies are increasingly finding their hands tied by their own liberal values which are beginning to emasculate the sense of what is right for them. Anti-immigration, Protectionism, Islamophobia, tightening border controls. Will Shaming the Faith that legitimises such an Ideology be the next logical step ?


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