Eric Robinson of the RAND Corporation analyzes the war to bust the Islamic State’s piggy bank and tries to see what’s next.
When former President George W Bush announced that the US would lead a war against terror, or at least against its perpetrators, terrorists, many wondered if a war against an idea would be won.
When the war was focused on the leading international organization of terrorism, Al Qaeda, it gained parameters by which success could be claimed.
As it was when Navy Seal Team 6 killed Al Qaeda’s founder and leader Osama Bin Laden. Killing Bin Laden was not only an event Americans and their allies could cheer, it removed a brilliant and charismatic leader, whose successor Ayman al-Zawahiri has neither Bib Laden’s charisma nor his credibility.
But even as Al Qaeda’s power has dimmed, a new organization has supplanted it as the lead dog of the Islamist terrorist pack, the Islamic State, called both ISIS and ISIL and in Arabic – Daesh, which has also replaced Al Qaeda as the American-led war on terror’s main target.
Ironically, though the names and groups and leaders have changed, the idea remains, of using the tactics of asymmetrical warfare, and of attention-getting attacks on civilians to re-create a Caliphate of Wahhabbi Islamic dominance. 15 years into the war and Islamist terrorists are still using the tactics of terrorism to create terror among its perceived enemies, the governments and people who do not embrace their fundamentalist brand of Islam.
Even as the Islamic State enrolled or inspired terrorists stage attacks in France and Belgium and the United States, the central hub of IS, the captured territory in Eastern Syria and northern and Western Iraq has been shrinking under the combined air and ground attacks of the US and its European and Gulf State allies in the air, and Iraqi government and non-government forces, Kurdish pesh merga militias, Turkish military troops and assorted Syrian armed groups on the ground.
Once IS-held cities like Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja in Iraq, and smaller towns like Kobani and Hasaka in Syria have been liberated, and the Islamic State’s 2 capitol cities, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria are under more and more military pressure.
And almost as damaging to IS as its losses of territory have been its financial losses … through bombings of its oil fields and oil delivery systems and of its literal treasure-houses of arms and dollars.
Eric Robinson is a research programmer and analyst at the RAND Corporation based in Washington, DC. His research focuses on empirical assessments related to special operations, counterterrorism, economic warfare, and labor market development in the Middle East and Central/South Asia. His current work is predominantly in support of the ongoing counter-ISIL campaign, including work related to ISIL’s finances and impact on local economies in Iraq and Syria.