After the eventual defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, American and Iraqi commanders are preparing for ISIS to morph back into its terrorist roots and remain a destabilizing menace for years to come.
American officials pointed to ISIS’s recent attack in Baghdad, which killed over 300 civilians and was the worst suicide bombing the country has seen since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Officials told The New York Times ISIS fighters from the recaptured cities of Fallujah and Ramadi have fully blended back into the Sunni populations, and are biding their time before launching more deadly terrorist attacks.
ISIS has it’s roots in the now defunct al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI). AQI was a guerilla terrorist organization that had refuge among Iraq’s disaffected Sunni population, and after the U.S. withdrawal in 2010 wreaked havoc across Iraq. This havoc spread into Syria and took advantage of the civil war, and eventually morphed into the ISIS caliphate of today.
The same underlying political issues which allowed AQI refuge among Sunni’s exist today, likely ensuring ISIS will simply go back to its old playbook. These tactics are likely to ensure a “long and bloody insurgency,” according to Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times. The commander of the U.S. effort in Iraq, Lt. Gen Sean Macfarland, acknowledged this grim reality to The New York Times saying, “To defeat an insurgency, Iraq would need to move forward on its political and economic reform agenda.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter offered much the same comments to reporters on a recent trip to Baghdad saying defeated ISIS fighters will “try to terrorize the population.” Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Votel also acknowledged that ISIS is becoming a “a more terrorist-type force.”
The comments from President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense and senior ground commanders responsible for running the war highlight the problem with the administration’s metric of success against ISIS. The Pentagon and Obama administration have insisted in the past taking territory away from ISIS is tantamount to success . Even in the wake of the massive attack in Baghdad, a Pentagon spokesman insisted U.S. Strategy against ISIS would not be altered.
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