ISIS on the verge of collapse after recent defeats in Iraq and Syria
The city of Raqqa, Syria, has been considered the capital city of ISIS since 2014. The Levant, a region that includes large swathes of Syria, Jordan and Iraq, is the 'L' in the alternative ISIS spelling 'ISIL'. The dream of a caliphate ruling over the Levant, centered in Raqqa under harsh Islamist law, rose to power as ISIS captured cities like Mosul in Iraq, gaining momentum throughout the 2010s, into a war that seemed to see Iraqi Security Forces and the chaos in Syria fail to suppress the rise of a genuine ISIS army, and ISIS-run territory in major metropolitan centers in the Levant.
Now, that has all changed. ISIS has been nearly completely defeated in Raqqa, all but flushed from the city. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab military force opposed to the Islamists of ISIS, now control 90 percent of Raqqa.
Yet, just because ISIS has lost territory doesn't mean it will stop fighting. Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, an Islamic State spokesman who was killed last year, had said: “True defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight. We would be defeated and you victorious only if you were able to remove the Quran from the Muslims’ hearts.”
The caliphate may be dead, but the guerrilla war continues.
This seems to be the opening of a new phase for ISIS. The dream of a caliphate, cities and nations held by ISIS, has seemingly vanished. But the guerrilla tactics that Al Qaeda and other terror groups have mastered for decades will provide a new way to wage war for remaining ISIS fighters, who have footholds along the Euphrates river valley, and originated in Iraq.
They've been in this position before, destitute and beaten. In 2011, it is believed that ISIS had only 700 fighters left, and was considered so irrelevant that the price on its leader's head was a comparatively tiny $100,000. Then, by 2014, the Euphrates river to Baghdad was declared the new Islamic State, the land of the caliphate.
What ISIS proves is that they are capable of surviving major losses, decentralizing and attacking with sparse numbers, until they are able to regrow and strike hard.
Right now, ISIS has between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, and still controls 4,000 square miles of land in the Euphrates river valley, spanning across the Iraq and Syrian border. They may lack a city, but they still have territory and fighters. Also, note how Al Qaeda was replaced by ISIS as the most primary terror threat only recently. New terrorist groups are always forming, and if the ISIS caliphate loses favor, a new group or an outgrowth of an old group is likely to occur the vacuum.
Lastly, where did ISIS come from? They originally formed in 2003, in Iraq, after the US invasion and the collapse of Iraqi society that came with the death of Saddam Hussein. ISIS, in this indirect way, was founded out of the chaos of the Iraq War, and thus the actions of the United States.
The United States also arms Islamist groups in Syria to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad, originally trained and funded the Mujahideen (which later became the Taliban after an internal civil war), arms the radical monarchs of Saudi Arabia, and has a storied history of overthrowing liberal democracies in the Middle East, particularly in Iran, where in 1953 the CIA cooperated with the British MI6 to depose the President of Iran, replacing him with a dictator, the hated Shah.
In Iraq, the United States also helped bring Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party to power in 1963, and supported Saddam Hussein until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War.