Terrorism lingers despite setback for IS

By Li Hao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/18 19:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Islamic State (IS) recently suffered a series of defeats in its base, the city of Raqqa in Syria, and in Mosul, Iraq. This signifies temporary victory of the international anti-terrorism operations.

The IS rose to power as the international community was deeply divided on the Syria issue. Conflicts between religious sects flared into political clashes due to poor social governance, and the leadership and organizational structure of various terrorist organizations took shape. The establishment of the IS mobilized personnel and material support, and extremist ideology crossed borders and spread to populations at risk of accepting the message.

The latest military victory is a result of targeted international governance and anti-terrorism military action. International society largely agreed on politically addressing the Syria issue in late 2015 and major countries made basic compromises over geopolitical issues concerning Syria, forming an international political basis for combating the IS.

Improved social governance has assuaged the political struggle between religious sects. After a complicated and difficult political adjustment by the Iraqi government, fighting terrorism has largely surpassed political struggle to be a basic priority for the society.

The IS focused on seizing large cities and major strategic sites to establish its goal of forming a caliphate. If it loses key cities like Mosul, Raqqa, al-Bab and Manbij, it will have to retreat further. Hence, the recent defeats in Mosul and Raqqa have dealt a heavy blow to the IS.

The tactics adopted by the US, which drew lessons from its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have effectively destroyed the leadership of the IS and significantly weakened its command and control capacity. As a result, the IS has lost hold of almost all the areas adjacent with neighboring countries like Turkey and Jordan, which means it has been unable to undertake large-scale battles.

Meanwhile, as countries have strengthened their resistance against extremism, it becomes more difficult for terrorist ideas to reach vulnerable marginalized populations and for extremists to launch terror attacks.

Despite all this, the ideological struggle remains intense. In this arena the IS maintains some strength. After all, the victory of international anti-terror operations is not yet firmly established and the international community has yet to improve its consensus on post-IS anti-terror operations in the world.

Specifically, divergences between the US and Middle East countries have not faded and the vulnerable political balance can be easily tipped. Despite the strategic cooperation of the US and Russia over fighting the IS and their communication channel to prevent conflicts, the two countries, plus regional powers like Turkey and Iraq, are distinctly divided over Syria's rebuilding.

It is no easier than fighting another terror war to rebuild a war-torn country that international forces have been involved in for six years. And once the rebuilding fails, the IS may come back.

At the moment, the world has to remain vigilant about terrorism despite the victories against the IS and to take precautions in places that may be affected in the post-IS era.

So far, the organizational capacity of the IS has been seriously crippled and its capacity to act overseas has been considerably abated. The future major targets of terrorism are possibly regions that provide good breeding grounds for terrorism, extremism and separatism, particularly those that have local armed groups, such as Yemen, Afghanistan, the Sahel region in Africa and Libya. Countries that breed terrorists, neighboring regions and developed countries in North America and Europe may also fall victim to terrorism.

Now that the IS is retreating, it will take some time for terrorism to break out again. This buys some time for countries to take measures to prevent the reemergence of terrorism and eliminate its hotbeds. The roots that feed terrorism still exist and there remains a sharp struggle over terrorist ideology. After the military victory, it will be a long and arduous journey to improve the international anti-terror system, improve the legal system of countries to defend against terrorism, and build international consensus on countering extremism.

The author is associate professor of the School of International Studies, Sichuan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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