America Must Not Repeat the Mistake of Letting Islamic State Rebound from an Incomplete Defeat

June 7, 2019 | Bill Roggio
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After over four years of fighting, the U.S. and its allies have finally deprived Islamic State (IS) of its territorial base in Syria and Iraq. But the presence of IS offshoots throughout Africa and Asia, and the group’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks—for instance the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka—show that it is far from defeated. Bill Roggio urges Washington to break its habit of prematurely declaring victory and precipitously withdrawing, but instead to press its advantage:

Islamic State’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, which was really a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq, suffered a major defeat during the U.S. surge from 2006 to 2010. The Islamic State of Iraq controlled vast areas of the country prior to the surge; [it] responded [to its defeat] by going to ground and husbanding its forces. By early 2012, the group was back launching vicious attacks against Iraqi security forces, a prelude to Islamic State’s rampage in 2014. This same cycle has been seen in other theaters against jihadist enemies. . . .

Conditions in Iraq and Syria are ripe for this pattern to repeat itself. [The group’s head], Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and many key leaders remain alive. Thousands if not tens of thousands of IS soldiers are at the ready. The Syrian and Iraqi regimes are ill-equipped to deal with the long-term threat. [Moreover], IS is not the only threat that would be buttressed by a [premature] American withdrawal. . . . Al-Qaeda, which initiated the war on 9/11, has not been “decimated” and is not “on the path to defeat” as President Obama boasted years ago. . . .

[A] lack of commitment by the U.S. will also be taken as a sign of encouragement for state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan is arguably responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s support of the Taliban, it would not be able to maintain a viable insurgency. Iran has paid no price for backing Shiite militias in Iraq, which are responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. soldiers. Disengagement [from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan] will be seen as a green light to use terrorism as a tool of statecraft.

The defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria is a welcome and necessary development in the war, and it was long overdue. But it was merely one battle in this long war. These jihadists remain committed to their cause, despite long odds against them. There is no question that the West possesses the resources and talent to defeat such an enemy. Does it have the will?

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