Islamic State FILE Image
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Did The War Against Islamic State Just Get Worse?

Daesh is extending its operational effectiveness on three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa, warns defence analyst, Christopher Lee.

Islamic State FILE Image

By Christopher Lee, defence analyst

The war in Syria is said to be all but wrapped up.

The heralded triumph of 2019 was the destruction of the last stronghold of the international terrorist organisation, so-called Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIL, ISIS or Daesh).

An equal success story involving mostly American-led, counter-ISIS forces, was the killing of Daesh leader al-Baghdadi in October.

However, there is a strong note of caution from the United Nations in New York and the work of the counter-terrorism team, led by Under-Secretary General, Vladimir Voronkov. He warns IS is far from dead.

The message from Mr Voronkov is simple: IS's reach is far from smouldering in the debris of Syria and Iraq and it is extending its operational effectiveness on three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.

IS is expanding its regional groupings by, as Mr Voronkov puts it: "Pursuing a strategy of entrenchment in conflict zones by exploiting local grievances."

In other words - ruthlessly killing their way to power in areas, especially in Africa, where national and regional governments have failed.

In some cases, where former colonial powers have lost the will or the opportunity to provide military cover for counter-terrorism.

As for the destruction of IS as fighting forces, Mr Voronkov’s figures suggest there are some 27,000 Daesh fighters in Syria and Iraq.

In his words, they remain the centre of the transnational terrorist threat.

Furthermore, in 2020, some 1,000 terrorism-related convicts are due for release from European jails.

Islamic State militants firing AK-47 rifles
(Picture: Planet Pix via PA).

The British Government has already presented legislation to prevent early release of convicts claiming to be reformed characters.

But no one in UN counter-terrorism believes there can be any guarantees of reform among the 1,000 prisoners, however long they remain locked up.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, last month said: "Those responsible for widespread atrocities against, [for example], the Iraqi population must be held to account for their crimes."

But at the same time, trials must be fair.

Injustice is commonplace and young men especially line up to join the 27,000 in protest. There lies part of the bigger story in the complex battle to beat IS by any other name.

The biggest concern is Daesh appears to have created a dependency among up to 100,000 civilians in areas they have moved into and in the many displacement camps.

The consequence of the induction of young refugees into Daesh is historically destabilising.

At a counter-terrorism meeting in Vienna a few days ago, Mr Voronkov put it simply to some of the best anti-Daesh fighters in the world - al-Baghdadi maybe dead, but Daesh is not, and in three continents it is about to get worse.