Jorge Vanstreels

ISIS: run.

An F15 prepares to take off from Incirlik, Turkey for a mission over Syria, credit US Dep. of Defense
An F15 prepares to take off from Incirlik, Turkey for a mission over Syria, credit US Dep. of Defense

Two years ago I was one of the first in Belgium to warn that ISIS posed a direct threat from abroad. The battlefield fronts of Aleppo or Mosul would not stay there; in time, Jihad would reach the heart Europe.

To my regret, I was right.

ISIS encroachment on Europe happened because intelligence services and policy makers severely underestimated ISIS’ strategic development, even to the point of negating it. ISIS was analyzed as a medieval aberration, violence as a means without end, not as a highly sophisticated terrorism strategy with global ambitions.

Little or no notice was given to the fact that ISIS’ command is staffed by a number of former Saddam loyalists, from within the ranks of the former Iraqi army and intelligence services.

These guys are no dummies nor fools. Their skills have been honed in the machinery of a skilled dictatorship that used gruesome violence to have a fearsome grasp on power. Those former officers know very well what they are doing (creating chaos to get Iraq back in their hands).

Between the deserts of Syria and Baghdad, ISIS scored one victory after another. In the event, frontiers drawn up at the start of the 20th century became mere daydreams in the sand. Palmyra was a watershed moment. Retaking Ramadi back by the Iraqi proved the group’s guerilla skills.

And all the while, in Brussels, Athens, Budapest and across the Mediterranean, ISIS individuals were slosly moving, hiding, and planning, all under the command of ISIS’ ‘external operations’ branch. It seemed as if the Caliphate was winning.

Today however, after two years of maddening violence a definite turning point has been reached: ISIS is on the run. Not only on the ground, where it lost almost half of it territory, forcing it into the defensive. Recapturing Palmyra was a blow to their morale. Mosul could soon fall when the Iraqi army starts it offensive.

Best of all, it seems that most of the operatives send to Europe have been either killed or arrested, as has been the ‘External Operations’ chief. The group’s human resources have reached its limit.

Over the past months the US Treasury has been so successful in disrupting that flow that the group had to cut its salaries by half. That of course deals a heavy blow to the narrative of an ideal Islamic State.

Slowly degrading to ultimately destroy ISIS is working, to Obama’s credit. His strategic patience could become one of his foreign policy legacies.

So here’s my advice to ISIS after closely following them for two years: run. You are on the defensive. There is no way to go. Foreign support in migrant communities is waning, distasted by your gruesome, barbaric terror. Local populations are fed up with a suffocating theocratic regime. You will have to flee from Mosul. There will be no safe heavens.

And that is precisely how it should be. Now comes the time to take a close look back and to learn from mistakes. We should try to spot the next big threat. This time before it takes us all by surprise. How is today’s big question.

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About the Author
Jorge Vanstreels covers from Brussels the Middle East and European Union foreign policy for a variety of publications, including Travelling widely throughout the region, his current research focuses on the Jihadist threat in Europe and in the Arab world; another major focus is the ongoing Israel-Palestine issue, which he has followed for years with accurate, objective reporting featuring stories from both sides. Follow on Twitter @Jorgevs