In 2017, the Coalition against ISIS regained 98% of the territory once held by the terror group in Iraq and Syria.
This year, approximately 26,800 sq. miles were reclaimed along with 5.3 million people liberated from the grips of ISIS. In January 2017, there were approximately 40,000 ISIS fighters mainly in Syria and Iraq. Today there are less than 1,000 ISIS fighters remaining and most of those are concentrated in a border area between Syria and Iraq. Credit for the sweeping victory against the self proclaimed caliphate goes to the new strategy by the Trump administration. The White House directed strategy of micro-managing targets and decision making during the Obama years changed under the direction of current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, subasantially increasing air strikes and allowing battlefield commanders to identify targets and make war fighting decisions. The judgment of the battlefield commanders is now sought after and trusted.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who took over command of the coalition in September, recently stated in an article in the Washington Examiner: “We don’t get second-guessed a lot. Our judgment here on the battlefield in the forward areas is trusted. And we don’t get 20 questions with every action that happens on the battlefield and every action that we take. Commanders now don’t, aren’t constantly calling back to higher headquarters asking for permission,” he said. “They’re free to act.”
ISIS Remains Active
The phrase “defeated on the battlefield” is used in the title for this article; however, while ISIS has effectively been defeated on the ground, they are still active as a terrorist organization and are no where near defeated in the domain of social media. Many ISIS fighters who were not killed in Iraq or Syria have fled to their countries of origin with newly gained skills for carrying out terror attacks with bombs, suicide vests and “everyday objects” like vehicles and knives. Instead of ISIS being a centralized terrorist group, they have now decentralized and work worldwide through independent sleeper cells awaiting instructions through various social media platforms.
Intelligence, special operations forces and various law enforcement agencies around the world now have to focus on squeezing ISIS’ funding sources and eliminating their ability to communicate and recruit. We also have to rely on ordinary citizens, particularly those in the Muslim communities where ISIS fighters reside, to provide information on who they are and where they congregate. We need to stage rapid reaction forces in regions that are susceptible to the resurgence and proliferation of the terror group. If the U.S. had left a response force in Iraq following the victory against the insurgency, the possibility of ISIS springing to life from the resulting power vacuum and becoming the 100,000+ (actual numbers are speculative) fighting force that took the lives of so many innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq could have been prevented.
The coalition, under United States leadership, has to prevent ISIS from regrouping, organizing terrorist training camps, and amassing forces. We must keep intelligence sources very active in countries where they are currently finding safe harbor. Countries of concern include Libya, the Sinai area of Egypt, Somalia,Yemen, Philippines, Bosnia and areas of Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. and coalition partners have made great strides in the defeat of ISIS, but the war on terror continues and with each victory brings new challenges.