Monday, May 2, 2016

ISIS is picking up the pace of terrorist attacks as they lose territory.

An ISIS flag left behind after the liberation of Palmyra, Syria. Reuters/SANA

The pace of terrorist attacks by ISIS has picked up as the terror group has lost territory. Reuters. Since the start of 2016 ISIS has conducted 891 attacks, the most since ISIS came to prominence in 2014. These attacks have killed an estimated 2150 people, an increase of 44% compared to last year. ISIS is now focusing on mass casualty attacks as they have lost territory. Since ISIS's peak, they have lost 40% of their territory in Iraq and 20% of their territory in Syria. Experts believe that the mass casualty attacks are a way to distract from their territorial losses. However, ISIS attacks have increased this year in Libya as well, where ISIS is still expanding. 

My Comment:
I think this article is giving us a accurate view of what to expect from ISIS as they lose territory. As they lose cities and towns ISIS will more frequently move from conventional battles to terrorist attacks. Though the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa are a long ways away, we are already seeing this transition. 

So why switch tactics to focus on terrorist attacks? Well for one, they are a lot lower risk. Send in a car bombing and all you lose in the vehicle and whatever poor sucker you convince to drive it. Send in a conventional attack you could lose a lot more people, equipment and vehicles. And even if your terrorist attack fails, it can still cause a positive impact on your campaign. Even a failed terror attack frightens people, where a defeated ISIS ground forces attack has the opposite effect. 

However, it should be important to note that many of these terrorist attacks are in service of a larger offensive. ISIS has perfected using car bombs as an opening attack. Indeed, one of the most common attacks is to use a car or truck bomb and then follow up with a large force of light vehicles/APC's and infantry. These attacks aren't always successful, as seen in this post, but it works more often then not. 

The threat of terrorist attacks also means that areas liberated from ISIS are still under threat. Not only do ISIS tend to leave behind plenty of bombs, land mines and booby traps, they tend to send terrorists and gunmen back into places that have been taken from them. So even if the main ISIS threat is defeated in any particular city, they still are able to cause major damage. 

ISIS also gets additional benefits from these terrorist attacks. This is more true for Iraq then Syria, but I believe that these terror attacks are contributing to instability in the government. Iraq is not stable at all right now and the general perception is that they aren't effective. That would be true no matter what, indeed, the protests that rocked the capital this weekend had little to do with terrorism, but it adds to the general perception of incompetence.  

It's also important to note that ISIS also wants to fuel sectarian tensions. They want Sunni and Shiite Muslims to be at war and by killing large numbers of Shiite Muslims they are inciting hatred and reprisal attacks. This again weakens their enemies and they do so for ideological reasons. After all, they consider Shia Muslims to be apostates.

Ideologically ISIS probably doesn't care all that much if they lose territory. Losing territory is actually part of their end of days prophecy. Remember, ISIS believes that the final battle between good and evil will happen in Dabiq, Syria. As long as they still hold that city, ISIS won't be all that upset about losing territory as they think it will be part of the end of days.

As for Libya, it's clear that ISIS is still on the upswing in that country. With the governments of Libya so unstable and unwilling to take ISIS on, the terror groups is still expanding. As they grow, they are presumably using the same tactics that have served them so well in Syria and Iraq. The increase in attacks there aren't due to setbacks and the loss of territory. It's because they are using those attacks to gain territory. 

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