Despite the sound victory the American-led coalition achieved over the Islamic State in recent months, the war against ISIS continues.
This is an important point to get across, and get across correctly.
The territorial wins over Islamism in other militant groups are very often conflated with a victory over the organization as a whole. This mistake is often made by top U.S. policymakers—even the commander-in-chief himself.
The reality is this: the fight against militancy is a persistent one. It is not like wars of the past where uniformed troops representing a clearly defined national entity faced off against another such group and the winners came home to a victory parade. The War on Terror brought to the fore a new type of conflict in which global networks of militants across national borders conspired to wreak havoc in mostly unconventional ways.
ISIS personifies phenomenon likely more than any other Islamist group.
As the most recent Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. intelligence community (published some three months ago) made clear, even after the territorial Caliphate collapses, the danger of ISIS will persist. According to the Assessment, ISIS still commands “thousands of fighters” in both Iraq and Syria, has currently eight branches, and more than a dozen networks between militant groups. All of this has been maintained despite significant leadership and territorial losses.
The efforts of West and mostly American-led efforts in repressing ISIS continue to come up in international media. For instance, the U.S. continues to pour considerable effort into pursuing ISIS leaders in northern Africa, achieving much success in recent months.
In fact, far from negating the threat of ISIS, the territorial wins of the West eliminate some problems and create new ones. An important (and woefully under-reported) challenge coalition countries will have to address in the coming period is the danger of former fighters in Syria and the broader Levant fleeing former battlefields, entering into Western countries with the aim of perpetrating attacks.