Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] ISIS after Baghdadi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : ISIS fall


On October 26, the top leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi blew himself in a dead-end tunnel. As a “leader on the run” for more than five years, Baghdadi was more of a symbol for a Caliphate. His killing will only be a short-term setback for the network.

ISIS – brief history

    • Formation of ISIS – Within 18 months of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, the al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) captured large territories across Iraq and Syria and morphed itself into ISIS. 
    • Caliphate – In 2014, the group declared a Caliphate and anointed a “descendant” of the Prophet, Abu Bakr Baghdadi as the Caliph. 
    • Propaganda – Using propaganda on social media, the Caliphate attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including over 5,000 from the West.
    • Decentralised wilayas(branches) – Riding high on extremists and terrorists from across the globe, ISIS announced “decentralised” wilayas and asked their supporters to join them if they could not travel to the Caliphate. 
    • Unique modus operandi – This modus operandi paid rich dividends and has continued to keep the network going despite their losses. 
    • Operation Inherent Resolve – The US-led coalition launched Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014 and cleared the last pocket of the Caliphate in Baghouz, Syria in March.

Only a temporary setback

    • Prepared for the eventuality – the ISIS core had been preparing for this eventuality even while fighting to save the Caliphate. Soon enough, the ISIS core will anoint a new Caliph, to whom all the wilayas and extremists and supporters will readily offer allegiance to. 
    • More ready to prove resilience – The ISIS network will also make serious efforts to mount “signature” attacks on chosen targets to prove its resilience, while local networks may mount lone-wolf attacks.
    • Attacks after victory – the ISIS-claimed attacks in Sri Lanka. It released the second video of Baghdadi. He hailed the revenge for Baghouz by “brothers in Sri Lanka”. The rare video of Baghdadi was released to assure the cadres that it could hit their enemies anywhere at will.
    • Huge cadres
      • Over 25-30,000 ISIS cadres have survived and many foreign fighters have escaped the Iraq-Syria theatre. 
      • Thousands of fighters and family members are being held in the Kurdish areas of Syria.
      • ISIS sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq have mounted hundreds of attacks this year. 
      • The decentralised wilayas in West Africa, the Philippines, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Libya have become more active and are showcasing successes on social media daily. 
      • The open propaganda forums have been replaced by “invitation only” links on social media, making detection much harder.
    • Complicated situation in Syria
      • The situation in Syria has become far more complicated as the US is only “guarding” oil fields from ISIS and chasing its counter-terror targets in Syria. 
      • The weakening of the Syrian Democratic Force’s position vis a vis Turkey and the Assad regime will deplete its resources and hinder the capability to defeat ISIS. 
      • Sectarian fault lines and public protests in Iraq and Lebanon, US/Saudi-Iran tensions, the region offers a fresh opportunity for recruitment to both the ISIS and al Qaeda networks.
    • Foreign networks: South AsiaISIS has attracted foreign fighters from South Asia, mainly Pakistanis, Afghans, Maldivians, and Bangladeshis.
      • The Easter attacks showed the potential of violence even by a small group of committed cadres with support of the ISIS network. 
      • In Bangladesh three years ago, ISIS did create an effective but small network, with the active support of western nationals of Bangladeshi origin. Bangladesh remains vulnerable.
    • India
      • Less than 100-200 Indians are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan to join ISIS. This creates the potential for more recruitment as well as aiding attacks on Indian soil or interests.
      • A few weeks ago, ISIS propaganda has called for jihad pegged on sentiments around Kashmir and has specifically called for attacks on Indian interests in the Arabian Peninsula.
    • New radicalism – The fresh round of radicalisation and recruitment that ISIS will embark on under its new leader, will pose further threats to India as well as to South Asia.
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