Ebook: From Territorial Defeat to Global ISIS: Lessons Learned
When Islamic State (ISIS) forces were driven out of the territories they had acquired in Syria and Iraq, there remained a concern that the threat posed by ISIS was far from over. It was clear that significant long-term strategies would be needed to establish and maintain security and stability if the potential for further radical Islamist threats in the Middle East and among NATO countries was to be eradicated.
This book presents papers from the NATO Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) entitled The Post ISIS-Era: Regional and Global Implications, held in Washington DC, USA, from 6-8 September 2019. The ARW brought together participants from NATO member nations and Partner countries, and from diverse backgrounds, including academia, security, law enforcement, intelligence, military, foreign affairs, media, think tanks, international organizations and embassies. Topics covered included: the future of ISIS after the loss of its territories; maintaining security and stability; analysis of ISIS recruitment and propaganda activities; the returnee problem and the plight of refugees; the processes of radicalization; response to the changing nature of violent extremism; policy recommendations to mitigate the consequences of new threats; and dealing with the exploitation of public fear of terrorism.
The book also discusses how the lessons learned can be implemented, and offers specific policy recommendations for the future. It will be of interest to all those involved in combating the international terror threat.
When we began this volume, political leaders around the world were already hailing their victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS forces were being steadily driven out of the territories they had acquired in Syria and Iraq. Yet we were concerned that the threat posed by ISIS was far from over.
A vanquished, but not eradicated, ISIS likely would lead to the emergence of other forms or brands of jihadi movements or groups, both in the Middle East and other regions, as long as conditions are conducive to spreading its malign ideology and motivating sympathetic groups to initiate terrorist campaigns. To eliminate the potential for further radical Islamist threats in the Middle East and among NATO countries, significant long-term strategies are urgently needed for establishing and maintaining security and stability, building state legitimacy, and effective application of the rule of law.
This book is the result of a NATO Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) titled “The Post ISIS-Era: Regional and Global Implications.” The ARW brought together participants from NATO member nations and its Cooperation Partners countries (specified by NATO) on September 6–8, 2019, in Washington, DC. The participants come from diverse backgrounds, including academia, security, law enforcement, intelligence, military, foreign affairs, media, think tanks, international organizations (United Nations, World Bank, NATO, European Union), and representatives from Embassies.
In this book, we aim to:
Develop projections for the future of ISIS after it has lost its territory in Syria and Iraq.
Discuss the challenges of maintaining security and stability and ways to transform and maintain state structures and institutions.
Provide a comparative and an in-depth analysis on recruitment and propaganda activities of ISIS; examine the returnee problem from regional and country- specific perspectives.
Examine the plight of refugees in the region and elsewhere and assess their current status and steps to help them return to their countries of origin.
Discuss the processes by which individuals become radicalized toward terrorism and ultimately join terrorist groups and the steps that practitioners and policy makers can use to prevent and counter terrorism.
Assess how the security structures of countries and their law enforcement agencies should respond to the changing nature of threats of violent extremism, and then offer policy recommendations to mitigate the consequences of new threats.
Discuss the exploitation of public fear of terrorism by media and politicians and how to deal with the vicious cycle of fear.
Discuss the lessons learned to strengthen the navigation capacities of intelligence services and potential threats to the institutionalization of ethics in professional practices.
We would like to acknowledge and thank all those who have participated and contributed to the ARW and this book. This project would not have been successful without the support of Mark J. Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. We would like to express our special thanks to Heejoo Cheon and Saffanah Zaini for their relentless and exceptional assistance throughout the planning, preparation, and implementation of the workshop. Also, we would like to express our special appreciation to Audrey C. Kessler for her proofreading service and contribution to this book.
Of course, this volume could not have been produced without the support of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Program. In addition to funding the ARW and production of this volume, the NATO-PSP staff were incredibly supportive and patient at every step, from assembling our participants from NATO and cooperating partner countries to planning the workshop and helping with preparation of the final manuscript. We express our sincere gratitude to them for the opportunity to have so many outstanding scholars work with us to better understand this security threat.
Jack A. Goldstone, Ph.D.
Eitan Y. Alimi, Ph.D.
Suleyman Ozeren, Ph.D.
Suat Cubukcu, Ph.D.
Due to the political corruption and state capture of the ruling elite, as well as U.S. policies in the early years of occupation, post-Saddam political order has failed to produce a polity based on social justice, citizenship and a functioning democracy. The youth-led October uprising of 2019 has shaken the system to its core but is facing daunting challenges in committing the elites to real reforms or changing the regime. The system is decaying but the kleptocracy is resilient. Should the ruling elite refuse to redistribute wealth and power, the political order will collapse completely.
The people of Mesopotamia are an ancient people who have experienced prosperity and poverty, authority and subjection, civilization and barbarism all together. The British, who won the first World War, were responsible for creating a new Iraq with many structural deficiencies. This inevitably led to structurally driven political, social and economic violence, which still entangles the people of Iraq. Arabs, Kurds, and other ethnoreligious minorities could not find a recipe that would glue all of Iraq together ever since . The aspiration of Iraq’s ruler was always beyond the boundaries of the country, beyond nationalism. Over all previous centuries, it is hard to find a genuine nationalist who ruled Iraq with a sole focus on Iraqi’s wellbeing. They rather had supra-nationalist aspirations such as Arabism, Socialism, and currently Shi’ism . This chapter tries to pinpoint the structural maladies of Iraq. Some have been created by external forces, inasmuch as Iraq has been the major arena for the bitter rivalry between the United States and Iran. However, this paper argues that main cause of the failing of Iraq as a state is manufactured by Iraqis themselves. This study uses an inside-out look at Iraq’s never-ending cycle of violence and distrust between the newly so-called “rivals” and the new “establishment.” It ultimately presents a set of recommendations pointing the way to alleviate the prolonged instability in the country.
Women joining illicit fighting groups is not a new topic. However, since the emergence of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, various individuals, including women, went to the combat zones and joined these groups in unprecedented numbers. While the number of men certainly exceeds the number of women, the pattern of radicalization and recruitment of women to the conflict zones remains a puzzle, given the diversity of cases and the countries the women come from. This article focuses on the cases of women from Central Asia who went to the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Included are examples of not only women who voluntarily chose to go to these conflict zones but also the much larger group of women who were taken, involuntarily, to the combat zones by their husbands. Many of these women have been encouraged or coerced by their husbands to go to these conflict zones. Family dynamics and the subservient role of wives in Central Asia may be influential, the decision to travel to conflict zones is to a greater extent about dependency and to a lesser extent about agency. In general, both findings demonstrate the complexity of the recruitment and mobilization processes.
Over the last 15 years, the literature on the impact of both the Iraq war and the September 11 terror attacks on the behavior of states and terrorist organizations has grown immensely. Despite this attention, there has been little research on how the invasion of Iraq impacted violent non-state actors (VNSAs), and particularly insurgent organizations killing of civilians and security personnel. Differentiating between the killing of police/military personnel and civilians is of key theoretical and policy importance, particularly if there are differences between the two in terms of insurgent behavior before and during the Iraq war. In this paper, we use the Big Allied and Dangerous Insurgency (BAADI) dataset to examine what factors impact the killing of police/military personnel and civilians by insurgent organizations between 1998 and 2012. We argue that before the invasion of Iraq, social and political factors influenced organizational lethality. During the Iraq war, however, we argue that this relationship changed because the United States and the West changed their policies and invested enormously in global resources to fighting non-state actors. Given this, the organizational factor that will determine an organization’s lethality would simply be the organization’s capability—captured most effectively by its size. Our analysis provides support for this argument.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been unprecedentedly effective in recruiting foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). While Turkey has been a transit country and a major hub for ISIS’s logistical and human resources, it also has become a prolific hotbed for its recruitment. Based on face-to-face interviews and open-source reports, this paper provides an in-depth assessment of ISIS’s recruitment structure and the challenges that Turkey faces in relation to ISIS’s activities and FTFs. We conclude with a set of recommendations and a roadmap for pursuing effective and sustainable policies against ISIS. Overall, Turkey should adopt a paradigm shift on counterterrorism, transform the security and intelligence apparatus, and develop rehabilitation programs that consider the specificity of individuals’ radicalization at different levels.
The content of this chapter describes the processes by which individuals become radicalized toward militant jihadi terrorism and ultimately join terrorist groups using ISIS recruitment and radicalization within ISIS as the focus of doing so. In doing so, it identifies steps that practitioners and policy makers can use to prevent and counter violent jihadist extremism by taking a nuanced approach that considers psychosocial vulnerabilities and environmental factors that contribute to radicalization. The case studies presented to illustrate these points are gleaned from the 240 interviews  with ISIS defectors, returnees, and imprisoned cadres interviewed by the first author, a research psychologist, in her role as director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and well as hundreds of terrorists from other groups. In the case of the ISIS interviews, with the interviewees’ consent, the interviews were video-recorded and cut to create short counter narrative clips that can be used as a powerful tool for challenging the beliefs that individuals who have been exposed to ISIS propaganda may hold. This chapter also focuses on the Internet campaigns that ICSVE has used to test various aspects of the counter narrative videos, revealing the best ways to utilize the counter narratives and to maximize their impact online. Given that ISIS has become notorious for its skill at Internet recruitment and creating high-quality propaganda videos, it is imperative that counter terrorism professionals are able to parallel their efforts in order to continue fighting them even after the territorial defeat of the Caliphate.
On September 12, 2020, the Afghan peace talks begin between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha-Qatar to end the 19 years of war. This significant diplomatic effort was only possible when in February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban reached an “historic agreement” in the presence of the international community in Doha-Qatar committing all U.S. troops to lave Afghanistan in 14 months in return the Taliban will cut ties with al-Qaida and make peace. [1, p. 1.]It was set to pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogues—a much needed move toward peace. Afghanistan has been entrenched in a 40-year civil war that has consequently created the conditions for the country to be considered a base for terrorist operations, ravaged by war and conflict for centuries by empires and militia groups in the name of power, religion and ideologies. It has seen foreign invasions, civil wars and has been turned into a theatre of conflict where the power struggle between hostile foreign countries transpired. It became the heart of the Mujahideen, the Taliban and the al-Qaeda’s operational bases and subsequently the United States intervention after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has remained engaged in its longest war as part of the ongoing “War on Terror” [2, p. 1]. While the US is pulling troops out and the Afghans are making peace, there is a potential threat, the rise of the Islamic State of Khorasan IS-K in Afghanistan. It is at this point that overall lessons gained from ground and first-hand experience can be applied to addressing the security issues that plague Afghanistan. Overall, there is a strong drive for peace amongst contemporary Afghans. They believe that negotiations and political settlement are in the nation’s best interests.
Regardless of the sizable number of terrorist attacks in the last decade in Jordan, Jordanians’ fear of the terrorists or risk of dying in a terrorist attack in Jordan is almost non-existent. What drives the young educated student to sympathize and support terrorist groups like ISIS? Sympathy and support for terrorist groups like ISIS among youths in Jordan can be understood by tracing its roots of the micro (personal factors), meso (institutional factors), and macro-level (social, cultural factors). Youths’ sympathy and support for ISIS are based on religious beliefs, social taboos, kinship, and social ties. The current study aims at examining radical, conservative, and extremist thoughts, fear about, and behavioral and material support for ISIS among college students in Jordan. Findings showed that, on average, 59% of students expressed radical thoughts, concentrated on areas of social and religiously conservative and extremist beliefs. Moreover, results showed that 66% of students carried extreme ideas, with 90.7% accepting the use of violence. More than half (61%) of the sample expressed conservative thoughts ranged from stoning adultery cases (82.4%) to segregation of women in the workplace (59.4.%). Findings showed less than half of the sample, 43.4% feared that they might become victims of ISIS one day, and 69.4% of students worried about the emergence of radical groups in Jordan. Also, findings showed that about 10% of students expressed behavioral or/and material support for ISIS ranging from money donation (11.7%) to providing personal and operational assistance (8%). Students’ overall average justification for ISIS’s support was 14%, and 15.6% of students justified their behavioral and material support for ISIS due to foreign assistance for Muslim authoritarian regimes. The lowest justification was for seeing ISIS as a defender of Islam. Finally, there was a significant relationship between radical thoughts and each of the support justifications (r = .254), strain (0.32), fear (0.46), religiosity (0.78), and ISIS support (r = .297). Additionally, there is a significant relationship between ISIS’s support and ISIS’s support justification (r = .72). Radical thoughts, violent extremism beliefs, conservative beliefs, stress, victimization, and justification explained 56% of the variance on behavioral and material support for ISIS and had an overall significant effect on behavioral and material support for ISIS (F = 85.936, α = .000).
The study of the profiles of young adults involved in attacks and bombings in 2015 and 2016 in France highlighted a violent rejection of Western lifestyle and national identification. The question arises whether conflicting religious beliefs (religion hypothesis) and delinquent subculture (rebel-without-a-cause hypothesis) characterize a handful of violent attackers only or, rather, reflect social divides in the general youth population. We propose, based on literature, that there are known two features of a pre-radicalization stage: rejection of national community and justification of political violence. We intend to focus on what explains them in France. For that purpose, we use a large representative sample (n = 9.700) of adolescents, and structural equation modeling. Overall, our findings suggest that pre-radicalization reflects larger societal cleavages. Weak identification with the national community in France appears mainly driven by religious identity, and not religious fundamentalism. Justification of violence against outgroups/agents enforcing order is not predicted by religion, neither as belief system nor as identity. The sources of legitimation of violence are mainly found in espousing a delinquent subculture, and repeat exposure to state violence in the form of pretextual police stops.
U.S.-led coalition forces liberated all of the territory ISIS held in Syria and Iraq in the first quarter of 2019. Although the defeat was a significant achievement, ISIS continues its activities outside the Syria and Iraq region. Turkey matters to ISIS because the group carries out attacks and uses the country to move fighters and supplies. However, Turkey relies heavily on police crackdowns to deter terrorism. Drawing on data from the Armed Conflict Event and Location Database, the Turkish Ministry of Interior, and an online news source, the current study first analyzed trends in ISIS attacks around the world. Then, it explored the extent to which police arrests prevent ISIS from further deadly attacks in Turkey. Results from the study suggest that ISIS activities are likely to decrease in Syria and Iraq after the U.S.-led military operations but increase in other countries. Also, mass arrests were ineffective in preventing subsequent deadly attacks in Turkey. Policy implications are discussed.
This article provides an overview of the public attitudes and state policies toward Syrian refugees in Turkey between 2011 and 2020. Turkey’s policies toward refugees and the Syrian conflict have gradually changed over the course of the last nine years (2011–2020). Turkey’s legal approach to Syrian refugees has transformed from nonrecognition to recognition and from recognition to integration. Likewise, its military strategy has grown from one of limited engagement into one of active engagement in the face of ISIS attacks and YPG’s consolidation of power in northern Syria. Contrary to the generous policies adopted toward Syrian refugees during the early years of the Syrian civil war, a nativist turn and the weaponization of refugees against the European Union came to characterize the country’s approach in recent years as the country became more involved militarily in the Syrian conflict.
Fear is dangerous because of its tendency to cause our instincts to overrule our ability to think; get us to behave against our self-interests; make us more easily exploited by politicians, terrorists, and others with harmful intentions; create enemies; and feed on itself in a vicious downward spiral. The problem is worsened by irresponsible media, politicians who exploit fear by distorting facts about threats to security, social networks that spread hatred and misinformation on the Internet, and cyberattacks. This paper describes these forces and argues that the vicious cycle of fear and the exploitation of fear can be broken by electing responsible leaders, using fear management programs at the national and state levels, applying lessons learned from community policing programs to reduce fear at the local level, and by instituting stronger sanctions against Internet abuse, including defenses against cyberattacks.
Terrorism is a significant concern worldwide. Criminals, jihadists, and terrorists are quick to use technology to protect their anonymity, privacy, modes of operation, and secret antisocial plans. They adapt to new innovations and exploit any technological advantages as means to ends. Clandestine operations are used to raise funds. Criminals, jihadists, and terrorists are working in international cells and rings that contest geographical boundaries and that require large resources and international security cooperation to obstruct their activities. Addressing these cross-country challenges require cross-country cooperation. The aim of this essay is to analyze the role of Internet intermediaries in countering online terror. I argue that Internet intermediaries can and should do far more than what they do to proactively fight online terrorism and that self-regulation is not effective enough. It is time for governments to step in and to protect vulnerable third parties by demanding that Internet intermediaries be vigilant and proactive in fighting terror. The idea of a new browser, CleaNet, is proposed to ensure a safe environment for Net users and for society at large.
The perceived post-ISIS era poses several challenges to intelligence and security authorities. In this contribution to a conference workshop eight lessons for strengthening the navigation capacities of intelligence services will be suggested that can make intelligence more relevant in the future. The lessons are both of a fundamental and practical nature and range from reflections about the origins of threats to the institutionalization of ethics support and to professional practices.
The Sousse attacks embody the main characteristics of terrorism and insurgency as pursued by ISIS. They are presented here as overarching examples of the underlying themes examined in this paper. In the first section, we give an outline of the facts that occurred in Sousse, Tunisia, highlighting features that mark the importance of the events in themselves and in the broader context of terrorism studies. In the second section, we offer a qualitative analysis of the traits of modern-day terrorism threat in the post-ISIS era—in particular, a marked preference for soft targets, all-around enemification of nonconformers, loose ties with perpetrators, massive use of communication technologies and propaganda, dissemination of paramilitary and insurgency know-how, and training. In the third and final section, we discuss the lessons that can be drawn from the events of Sousse, with a specific focus on soft target defense, as relevant for future challenges emerging from the rise and fall of ISIS as a pseudo-state entity and the dissemination of its personnel, ideology, and knowledge outside the territories it once occupied. In particular, we propose a departure from the model of soft target protection to one of defense.
As a conclusion of the book, this chapter provides a broad perspective on the reasons behind the rise and fall of ISIS, discusses the potential of ISIS, and provides policy recommendations for a permanent defeat of the threat from ISIS.