ISIS or ISIL or Daesh peaked when it held about 40% of Iraq and three-fourths of Syrian territories in 2016. But by the end of 2017, it had lost about 90% of the regions it had gained. It became visible apparently out of nowhere in 2013-14. The international community caught the attention of this outfit through their widely publicised brutalities and proclaiming their territories across the boundaries of many nations, especially Iraq and Syria. The rise of ISIS raised many questions in the minds of the world community. What is the origin of this outfit? How did it come into prominence? Can it persist? And if yes, then how long it can sustain?
It is commonly believed that ISIS grew out of the convulsion of the war of Iraq (2003-11), Arab Spring in 2010 and the Civil War in Syria in 2011. But this outgrowth is the result of conflict between Islam as a religion and modernity. Its ideology is based on the early rise of Islam. Al-Nahda, also known as the Arab Renaissance, began in the 19th century and the early 20th century in Egypt and then spread across the then Ottoman-ruled Arab regions of Lebanon, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. This period in the history of the Arab areas is often regarded as a period of reform and modernisation. However, some critics seem to have an opinion on the matter and call this Renaissance an autogenetic response to the cultural shock brought to the land of Egypt when Napoleon invaded it in 1798. Three significant factors had a major effect on the development of present-day Islamic terrorism—the oil boom in the Arab region in the 1970s, which attracted the attention of the western countries, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979.
On September 11, 2001, international terrorism crossed all the limits and became unrecognisable following the attacks in the US. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the US gave the Taliban, then in control of Afghanistan’s government, a choice: either hand over the al-Qaeda leaders who were living in their country and responsible for planning the 9/11 attack or put their rule at risk.
The US invasion of Iraq was a shock to the world. Al-Queda appealed to the young generation of Muslims worldwide to fight against the US in Iraq. Al-Queda conducted terror attacks against Madrid, London, Moscow, and Mumbai civilians. Many people died. However, Saudi Arabia crushed the al-Queda sponsored terrorism. The Arab Spring led to a civil war in Syria. Al-Queda in Iraq, which was called the Islamic State of Iraq, seized eastern territories of Syria and formed ISIS.
Withdrawal of the US-led NATO forces from Iraq and the death of Osama Bin Laden led to the Iraq insurgency as a centre of terrorism in the Middle East. Al-Queda, under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, was mainly confined to Yemen, Somalia and the Sharan desert. In 2014, ISIS seized a large territory of Iraq, combined it with captured parts of Syria, and declared a new Islamic Caliphate called I Islamic State under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And it is believed that former al-Queda loyalist groups in Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Libya swore loyalty to the new Caliphate. Following the terror attacks allegedly by ISIS on Russia, Tunisia, and Paris, the world launched a global war against terrorism vigorously.
On September 10, 2014, the US declared the creation of a broad-based international forum to defeat The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Five commonly reinforcing lines of effort to destroy and defeat ISIS were present at an early September 2014 meeting with NATO counterparts. These lines of action include:
- Providing military support to our partners;
- Impeding the flow of foreign fighters;
- Stopping financing and funding;
- Addressing humanitarian crises in the region; and
- Exposing true nature.
Since 2014, this US-led forum has carried out a comprehensive strategy to destroy and degrade ISIS. It achieved significant success in eliminating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019 and many other ISIS leaders and eradicated ISIS’s basic structure. They liberated about 42,500 square miles and rescued many persons caught in the conflict zones. It further expanded the coalition’s global reach to nearly 83 countries worldwide.
The military operation authorised by President Biden and carried out by US-led forces on 2/3 Feb night in northwest Syria resulted in the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of ISIS. It was a significant victory in the global fight to disorder and ripped to shreds ISIS. Al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdallah, took over ISIS in October 2019 after years of serving as a senior leader in the terrorist organisation. He was known for his ruthless execution of ISIS’s spiteful ideology. He was a mainspring behind ISIS’s ferocious campaigns to subdue communities and oppress apparent enemies, including the Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq. He coordinated the group’s global terror operations, during which ISIS expanded its geographic presence and attacks in Africa.
Now, what after the death of Qureshi. The killing of leaders of terrorist organisations wouldn’t solve the problem of terrorism. This target elimination helped the US restore its credibility, which was dented after its pullout from Afghanistan in July 2021. Indeed, this is the most significant setback to ISIS, but they will find the replacement sooner or later. ISIS is a giant engendered by al-Queda, born out of the invasion of Iraq, whose genetic material has various components of the legacy of Saddam Hussein and his police state. Since its inception in 2003, allegedly by a small group of terrorists in Jordan has grown into a full-fledged terrorist organisation that is dominating in one way or another by its cult based ideology.
The West is dealing with the ISIS threat by mere containment without going into the root cause of the problem. So far, the so-called ‘War on Terrorism’ has been a failure, making terrorists national fighters. They invaded the wrong country while taking revenge for the 9/11 terror attack on the US. This error resulted in giving birth to ISIS. There has to be a comprehensive policy to tackle the problem of terrorism. The answer is to play the game as they (terrorists) play: Asymmetrical warfare. Deny them at cost, a large scale national military footprint. Those local groups fighting ISIS, such as Kurds and Yazidis, need to be supported and armed accordingly. In addition to military operations, there must be a virtual war to counter the narrative of ISIS both in the real world and cyberspace. The world must gear up to fight a high intensity militarily, diplomatic and counter-ideology warfare not against any nation but a so-called fanatic misguided human weapons.
 Malcolm Nance, p-18, Defeating ISIS published by Skyhorse Publishing, New York, US published in 2016.