Down but not out: West faces Long war against Islamic State

(VOA) — By Jamie Dettmer

“If they are in Raqqa, they’re gonna die in Raqqa.”

America’s top envoy to the coalition battling the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, declared last month open season on the terror group’s foreign recruits in the besieged northern Syrian city.

More than 2000 IS militants are believed still to be fighting in Raqqa, many of them thought to be foreigners from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. But even after the Islamic militants are defeated in the coming weeks in their self-styled Syrian capital, the terror group still will have an estimated 13,000 or so fighters in Syria and Iraq, posing a remaining threat in the Levant, warn U.S. officials and independent analysts.

They expect the terror group to revert back, in the words of analyst Bruce Hoffman, to its “fundamental DNA” as “a terrorist-cum-insurgent group, not a proto-state exercising sovereignty.” Most of the leadership hasn’t stood to fight in Raqqa, as it didn’t in Mosul, fleeing both cities to set up in remoter territory and smaller towns along the Syrian-Iraq border in the Euphrates River Valley and Iraq’s western Anbar province.

Defeated, not eradicated

IS hopes to emulate its precursor jihadist organizations, which were able to weather military defeats inflicted on them by U.S. forces during the 2007-08 surge in Iraq.

IS’s official spokesman, Abu Mohammad al Adnani, before his death in a targeted drone strike last year, referenced the strategy in an audio-message to followers, referencing the 2007 U.S. Surge, saying: “Were we defeated when we lost the cities in Iraq and were in the desert without any city or land? …It is the same, whether Allah blesses us with consolidation or we move into the bare, open desert, displaced and pursued.”

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