The Adaptable ISIS

by Dish Staff

While US airstrikes and advances by Kurdish forces have begun to reverse the gains ISIS has made in recent weeks, Joshua Keating doubts the group will be easily defeated:

Over the past few months, the group has shown remarkable flexibility in both its tactics and its targets, one of its key advantages over the national governments trying to stamp it out. If its progress against Baghdad stalls, it can turn against Erbil. If it suffers a setback in Iraq, it can simply focus its efforts on Syria (or Lebanon), where the dynamics of the ground as well as the international alliances work completely differently. If U.S. airstrikes turn the tide against it on the battlefield, it can turn back to urban warfare or suicide bombings.

In other words, a group like ISIS is perfectly positioned to exploit the hazy national boundaries, sectarian divisions, and mistrust among governments in the region where it operates. Given that those factors don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, my guess is that the Islamic State will find a way to regroup. British Prime Minister David Cameron is probably right to be warning the public of a long fight to come.

Yochi Dreazen warns that ISIS is also getting better at governing the territory it controls:

U.S. intelligence officials say the leaders of the Islamic State are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, and are devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water, and sewage functioning in their territory. In some areas, they even operate post offices. …

Taken together, the moves highlight the fact that the Islamic State, already the best-armed and best-funded terror group in the world, is quickly adapting to the challenges of ruling and governing. That, in turn, dramatically reduces the chances that the extremists will face homegrown opposition in what amounts to the world’s newest territory.

Accordingly, Faysal Itani argues that the key to defeating ISIS is to treat it like the state it claims to be:

Above all, ISIS wants to control territory and borders. Otherwise it is just one militia among many others in Syria and Iraq. This requires fighting on multiple fronts against multiple enemies, within both Syria and Iraq. That means openly moving fighters, arms and equipment across vast desert areas. Therefore, like any conventional army, ISIS is prone to overstretch. These increasingly lengthy lines of communication are prime targets for ground and air attacks that would destroy ISIS’ territorial integrity and fighting capability. …

But ISIS is adaptive, creative and ambitious. By contrast, the international community’s response has been rigid, predictable and unimaginative. If it continues to see and treat ISIS as simply a terrorist group, the international community will forever be playing defense, which ISIS can happily live with, until it no longer has to and can go on the offensive abroad. Unless its rivals understand and treat ISIS as a state, and exploit the vulnerabilities statehood presents, ISIS will continue to outclass them in ambition and sophistication, and it will have its state.