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Although the pace at which the jihadist landscape is evolving means any description can offer only a snapshot, the main contours of the fourth wave are clear. It has not replicated elsewhere its dramatic success there, but it is expanding in Libya, the Sinai, Yemen and Afghanistan, winning recruits in other war zones and has coordinated or inspired attacks in the West.

Some affiliates, particularly in Syria and Yemen, are increasingly powerful. Exploiting opportunities opened by local conflicts, they have shifted emphasis from attacking Western interests to capturing territory, targeting local regimes, often obscuring their links to al-Qaeda and, in places, acting with some pragmatism. Whether over time this will alter the identity of al-Qaeda or any local branch or help it recover ground lost to IS remains unclear. Since , more movements have seized territory, supplanting the state while prompting, in some cases, a shift in relations with populations in areas they control.

In a few weeks, it swept across the north and west of the country, linking up to strongholds in eastern Syria. IS forces destroyed part of the Iraqi-Syrian border, the first time a jihadist group had claimed supranational territorial authority.

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Tens of thousands of foreigners have joined, many lured by sophisticated online recruitment. Its enslavement of women generates headlines, too, and serves to recruit young men whose socially conservative background makes access to women difficult. It aims to expand by capturing territory and winning recruits in other collapsed states; dividing societies through terrorist attacks; and, it says, provoking a battle with Western powers that paves the way for a new Islamic order.

Above all, though, IS is a movement rooted in the recent history of Iraq and Syria and with a now predominantly Iraqi leadership. The ouster of Saddam Hussein, a largely secular dictator ruling a country with a limited history of Salafi-jihadism, and the policies adopted afterwards by the U. Power shifted from Sunni urban to Shiite and Kurdish provincial classes. The new political system, which expressly apportioned power by sect and to which Sunnis struggled to adapt, also served their interests poorly.

To build the insurgent movement that became AQI and later IS, Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who arrived in Iraq after fleeing Afghanistan as the Taliban were ousted, could thus tap a rich vein of Sunni discontent, as well as networks of Levantine militants he had forged in South Asia. Drawing on a new generation of jihadist ideologues, he found fertile ground for polarising the country along sectarian lines, an approach based on his deep hatred of Shia but also cold strategic logic, given the reversal of Sunni fortunes.

In the early years, however, AQI was only one of many groups opposing the occupation and new government. While the leadership of his group included many foreigners, ex-regime elements dominated others. Though the U. By the time the U. These considerations, together with promises of U. More than , tribal fighters, their capacities reinforced by the U.

The revolt against AQI was built on the understanding Sunnis would gain a greater stake in the state and its security forces. Instead, in the run-up to the U. The crushing by Iraqi security forces of protests that broke out in Sunni-majority towns Falluja and Hawija over the winter of was the tipping point.

As violence intensified, Maliki portrayed virtually all Sunni opposition as terrorist, while refusing to label as such no less brutal Shiite violence. By mid, it had infiltrated most Iraqi Sunni-majority cities. Though dynamics varied, local military councils and ex-insurgent factions often allied with jihadists, whose military superiority then translated into dominance. When the renamed IS captured Mosul and the Sunni heartlands in June , the Iraqi army, hollowed out by corruption and incompetence and seen as a Shiite occupation force, mostly melted away.

Do in Iraq? Sectarianism and Civil Conflict , 27 February The broken promises to the Awakening destroyed or discredited much of the non-jihadist Sunni opposition that had gambled on working with the U. The most notorious way it did this was ruthlessness with potential rivals, particularly those involved in the Awakening who refused to join.

No less crucially, however, it provided an avenue for social mobility to Sunnis who lacked a champion within their community. IS has thus weaved a web of marginalised groups and classes whose interests, if not beliefs, align with its own. Rural classes found in it a way to strike back at what they saw as exploitative urban elites.

Paradoxically for a group that promotes an uncompromisingly austere vision of Islam, IS leaders initially showed, at least in Iraq, some flexibility in enforcement of religious codes, depending on what they believed the local market would bear. But some have profited, and for many IS still inspires less resentment than Baghdad. Plus, many Iraqis are inured to repressive rule stretching back decades. The story is different in Syria, into which what was becoming IS expanded in Jolani rejected the merger and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

After a failed attempt to mediate, Zawahiri ruled that the Iraqi and Syrian branches would be separate al-Qaeda affiliates, in effect siding with Jolani. Baghdadi rejected this. Though the clash between Baghdadi and Jolani was the spark, the split between al-Qaeda and IS had long been brewing.

As far back as s Afghanistan, relations between Zarqawi and al-Qaeda leaders had been strained. His tactics in Iraq drew regular criticism from Zawahiri and leading al-Qaeda ideologues, who questioned his brutality against other Muslims and focus on killing Shia and capturing territory rather than targeting the U. In Syria, many Iraqi and other foreign jihadists defected to IS, radicalising it further.

Though some al-Qaeda veterans stayed with it, al-Nusra became increasingly Syrian, and most of its rank-and-file, if not leaders, focus on Syrian, not transnational concerns. IS initially targeted not the regime but rebel-held areas, trying to conquer the Sunni opposition in Syria as it had in Iraq. Initially al-Nusra stayed out of the fray, but was drawn in against IS. Beaten back from the north west around Aleppo, IS was forced to retreat to eastern Syria, but this also freed up resources for its dramatic capture of Mosul and expansion in Iraq.

In Syria, where Sunnis are a majority and powerful alternatives exist, it controls only some Sunni-majority areas and relies more on force, despite forming some alliances and often operating by persuasion or bribery. These differences notwithstanding, its defeat in either country appears remote. The degree to which, over time, it can maintain support or acquiescence, particularly in Iraq, is uncertain. However, it is as embedded in the local economy as in society.

It generates part of its revenue through oil production, looted banks, gold mines, wheat farming and sale of antiquities, but most now comes from taxes of various sorts, confiscation and extortion, all hard for international sanctions to squeeze without inflicting wide suffering. Even as it has faced greater military pressure and lost territory over the past year, it appears durable. IS aims to expand beyond its regional base by establishing provinces wilayaat through aggressive recruitment and luring in other groups.

It appears less discerning in allowing groups to join than al-Qaeda is about accepting new affiliates. This report treats only the largest. In Libya, around the coastal town of Sirte, a former stronghold of the Qadhafi regime, and nearby towns, IS recruited from the local Ansar al-Sharia branch, taking advantage of a security vacuum. Its emissaries appeared in greater numbers after June , both Libyan returnees from Syria and foreigners, including notable Iraqi IS commanders. Initially, IS did not impose strict rules on residents, provided women were veiled, and local groups did not attempt to take up arms against it.

Killing primarily targeted foreigners, especially Christian refugees. But over time, especially after a group of Sirte residents led by a Salafi imam tried to rise against it in summer , repression became more violent. The group ransacked oil fields and attacked ports and refineries, but there is no evidence that it smuggles oil. The Libya branch appears to have the closest operational ties of all IS-linked groups to the leadership in the Levant.

The longer it can hold on, and the more Iraq and Syria veterans and foreigners flow in, the more dangerous it will become. In early , it expanded east, tightening its grip on Ben Jawwad the last town before major oil facilities on the coast and attacked oil and gas infrastructure around Sidra. Its expansion westward is checked by the Misrata-aligned revolutionary brigades, which are distrusted by Sirte locals but could perhaps oust IS were their leaders not reluctant to lose men or risk being outflanked in their hometowns.

Elsewhere in Libya, IS has not made significant progress. It has a limited, static presence in Benghazi where it is believed to have coordinated with the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a mostly non-jihadist coalition fighting against forces under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar and his supporters purport to be fighting terrorist groups; critics accuse them of also attacking non-radical groups. Libya is not torn along the sectarian fault lines of Iraq or Syria, and its chaotic and fluid militia scene is more difficult for IS to exploit, although some Iraq dynamics, notably the rifts between the state and communities associated with the former regime, are evident.

Some of its expertise may have come from veterans of Syria or Iraq. It has advanced weaponry — having used MANPADS man-portable air defence systems at least once in and Russian-made anti-tank Kornet missiles in — and claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian civilian airliner in October In Yemen, IS, which announced itself in November , has to contend with a well-established and strong al-Qaeda movement that has demonstrated its staying power. Attacks on holy sites of Zaydis, the Shiite Islam sect to which Huthis belong, appear aimed at stoking sectarian divisions so IS can present itself as the protector of Sunnis, tactics that serve it well in Iraq.

Throughout , Taliban splinter groups also sporadically re-hatted for diverse reasons. The Taliban conglomerate, however, remains the preeminent armed opposition, with deep roots in parts of Pashtun society and growing reach in the north. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in August announced it had declared allegiance to IS, but appears to have fought alongside the Taliban in its Kunduz offensive in early The Taliban now control more territory countrywide than at any point since the U.

Taliban leaders nonetheless appear to take the IS threat seriously. Zawahiri also pledged allegiance to Omar and now pledges allegiance to his successor, Mullah Mansour. The Caucasus branch, however, has been decimated since Russian security services cracked down in Together with the allure of fighting in Syria, that appears to have driven many Russian jihadists to the Levant. Militants in the North Caucasus reportedly have also not received the financial support they expected from Raqqa. Thus far, the Caucasus appears less a priority for IS than Libya or South Asia, though IS fighters with roots in the region often call for Muslims there to attack the Russian state in its name.

It is not clear that operational ties to Raqqa exist. Although there are fighters from outside the Lake Chad Basin region among its ranks, foreigners are less numerous than in other African jihadist movements. Understanding its Iraqi roots and armed capability is critical but only partly captures its protean nature: both Iraqi Sunni resistance and transnational millenarian force; a source for some of protection, for others of adventure or identity; a state structure, but also a revolutionary idea. Its resources and military capability and the remote prospects for eradicating it in the near term make it a more difficult challenge than any prior jihadist movement.

It nimbly exploits cleavages, particularly along the Sunni-Shia fault line, but also others, like that between Ankara and the Kurds, where its attacks risk contributing to the instability of a country threatened on multiple fronts. The lack of avenues for peaceful dissent and opportunities for young people makes many societies vulnerable to its recruitment, even if it lures only tiny minorities. IS has devised a paradigm of mobilisation both local and opposed to a global establishment.

As IS has emerged, al-Qaeda has evolved. But despite IS efforts to win over al-Qaeda affiliates in the Maghreb, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, no top commanders, most of whom rubbed shoulders with bin Laden and Zawahiri in South Asia, have defected. Some affiliates have become more powerful than ever, seizing territory, grafting themselves onto local insurrections and fighting beside rather than seeking to crush or absorb other Sunni movements.

Many of its foreign fighters joined IS, but it has regrouped and with a stronger Syrian identity is second in strength among rebels in the north only to Ahrar al-Sham. See Section III. Unlike IS, which is new to the country, it has a long history and an extensive social and family network there. The group also is now active in Taiz and al-Bayda.


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After the revolution, it created a network of affiliates known collectively as Ansar al-Sharia, that are associated with al-Qaeda but have less rigorous membership standards, allowing them to recruit more widely and avoid an explicit al-Qaeda association. It has weathered the death of its leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, killed by a drone strike in June His longtime deputy, Nasir al-Raimi, a trainer in an al-Qaeda camp in the s, appears to have quickly cemented his authority. Precise relations between AQAP and other anti-Huthi militias in the south, notably the strong, non-Islamist, secessionist Hiraak, are difficult to define.

In some places — Aden after its liberation, for example — they already fight each other. In others, such as Taiz, where for now they align against Huthis, these alliances may prove temporary. Clearly, though, the war is a massive boon for al-Qaeda. Even if UN mediation yields a peace deal between the Huthis and their foes — which still appears some way off — ousting it militarily will be tough, especially with the southern question unresolved.

Though expelled by French and Chadian forces from towns in northern Mali they controlled for half of , AQIM militants have gained footholds in Libya, which has become a hub for jihadist networks stretching south into the Sahel, west to Tunisia and Algeria and east to the Levant battlefields. The former has claimed a hand in the recent Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks.

Lastly, al-Shabaab in Somalia has withstood in the past few years offensives by an African Union AU mission, the loss of major population centres, ideological attacks from other Islamists, including earlier jihadist leaders, and, in , an internal power struggle. Since , al-Shabaab blends insurgent tactics with terrorist attacks: besieging towns, breaking supply lines, conducting night raids while striking in urban areas beyond its direct control. It pays fighters well thanks to diverse income sources: donations, extortion, even in parts of Mogadishu, looting, kidnapping and taxing piracy and smuggling.

Outreach in villages stresses need to defend Somalia and Islam from invaders. Foreign influence has shaped its ideological and tactical development but not swamped its Somali core. It still aspires to create an East African regional emirate, and much outreach is now in Kiswahili not Somali.

At least by night, it again controls much of Mogadishu. Abdiqadir Mumin, an al-Shabaab ideologue linked to the diaspora and based in northern Somalia, recently defected to IS with a handful of men. For now, the appointment of Kenyan Somali national security officers in the north has gone some way to bridge the gap between the state and affected communities, although authorities should work more with elders, resolve local disputes al-Shabaab exploits and improve living conditions.

Actions have been clumsier in Coast, another region with many Muslims and at risk of al-Shabaab infiltration. Droukdel also wrote to his lieutenants urging them not to alienate locals and even lamented their splitting from Tuareg rebels. Whether the new strategy heralds a change in the longer-term aspirations of any affiliate is unclear. Local commanders have, however, allowed international humanitarian organisations to provide aid in areas they control. Some debates, nevertheless, have important policy implications.

Often framed theologically, they rarely stray far from the strategic: arguments over what Islam permits track closely what works on the ground. IS and al-Qaeda differences, at least at leadership level, tend to revolve more around tactics and strategy than goals. Both disavow local regimes as un-Islamic and want to expel the West and Russia from Muslim lands and destroy Israel. For both, the aspiration remains a caliphate that upends the international order.

Their paths and timeline for getting there, however, diverge sharply, reflecting the contrasting experiences of their leaders and the contexts in which they emerged. Takfir can be invoked in three circumstances: against Muslim tyrants; against Muslims serving tyrants or operating in foreign interests; and against Muslims improperly practicing their religion, a provision particularly targeting Shia, who are referred to by so-called takfiris as rawafid rejectionists of the Sunni-endorsed lines of succession from the Prophet Muhammad.

With notable exceptions that jihadists take as inspiration, takfir was used infrequently in Islamic history, was limited to individual cases and had a high juridical bar. While al-Qaeda and IS, in theory at least, share this expansive conception of takfir , their behaviour differs considerably. Al-Qaeda has usually tried to avoid gratuitous Muslim casualties. Muslims must fight for the former or be seen as non-believers, part of the latter. Local IS commanders have shown occasional pragmatism in Iraq and Syria and are likely to do so elsewhere, given that eradicating all other forms of Sunni opposition would be impossible.

Still, IS fights a simultaneous war on all fronts: against primary enemies, Iranian proxies and the Shia; other Sunni rebels; Sunni powers it sees as Western stooges; Russians as infidel supporters of Assad and Iran; Western powers and so forth. It has woven together sectarian, revolutionary and anti-imperialist strands of jihadist thinking. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have responded differently to the popular upheaval. AQAP and al-Nusra may fight in sectarian wars and target Huthis and Alawites; and al-Qaeda is hardly shy about killing civilians or cooperating, in Pakistan for example, with deeply sectarian allies.

Attitudes toward the nation-state system are, in some conflicts, perhaps a variable in determining who can be engaged diplomatically. At their top level, IS and al-Qaeda have transnational goals. Despite its primary identity as an Iraqi insurgency, IS — at least according to its own statements — wants to provoke a war across the Muslim world as a step to expanding its caliphate; Zawahiri and al-Qaeda affiliate leaders view their local struggles as fronts in a wider transnational jihad. The Taliban has many elements, but its core is nationalist, if mostly Pashtun, dedicated to recovering its emirate in Afghanistan and expelling Western forces.

Since , Ahrar al-Sham has also rejected the Salafi-jihadist label, ibid. Ansar Dine, which aligned with al-Qaeda in Mali in , and some Ansar al-Sharia factions in Libya similarly appear to aspire to Islamic rule within existing borders. Even among movements with nationalist goals, few accept political or religious pluralism.

The Taliban leadership aspires to a government under the authority of a divinely-appointed emirate. Institute for Peace, Official messaging may not reflect positions of the rank-and-file or even the leadership: some are clearly committed to radical ideals; others express them to curry favour with Gulf-based donors or may feign pragmatism to win state backing. To a degree, identities are defined as much by strategy, tactics and sources of funding and support as by longer-term goals, given the often remote nature of those goals.

What they want, particularly related to the state system, their openness to sharing power and tolerance toward other sects or religious groups, bears on policy. Any sign of evolution or possibility of influencing or splitting them along these lines may open new ways to diminish their threat. Controlling territory, among the thorniest challenges for any insurgency, has proven especially hard for jihadists. Their harsh, literal implementation of Sharia has rarely inspired much support.

More importantly, most have proven inept rulers. But given the conditions of extreme violence or state collapse that enable them to seize territory, communities may find them better than the alternatives or have little choice but to acquiesce. Also, some movements show signs of learning to govern in ways that avoid fully alienating those under their control.

In recent history, few radical Islamist movements had held territory before The Taliban, first as it advanced north and then as the government of most of Afghanistan in the mids, initially brought some basic law and order, but its puritanical mores, economic mismanagement, sporadic attempts to curb poppy cultivation, forced conscription and war-time atrocities soon alienated many, particularly in cities and towns.

It was, in turn, mostly the failures of the new government and the U. Its courts, often mobile, dispense fast, predictable and enforced, if harsh, justice that by most accounts is reasonably popular, at least outside cities. Some villagers at first welcomed schools for Quranic education, basic medical services, reasonably predictable tolls on roads, regular, safe market days and local dispute resolution. As an insurgency, al-Shabaab now combines unpopular violence with pragmatism and political acuity.

It deals ruthlessly with potential rivals, while mediating between clans or backing weaker ones against rivals and avoiding too close an association with any. It does best amid outright rivalry between clans or where clans feel frozen out of power. Neither movement is popular. Many villages are caught between their harsh rule and violence and the predation of local government-aligned strongmen; for many, survival hinges on working with whomever holds sway locally. Both, however, deliver some basic public goods and exploit local grievances, conflicts and tribal or clan relations to win support, while playing on intra-tribal or clan tensions between traditional authorities and those marginalised, particularly younger men.

They exert their authority in captured territory through an often carefully calibrated mix of coercion and co-option. Since , more jihadists have seized territory. Its violence raises the cost of dissent, while its leaders have forged closer ties to parts of society. More importantly, in contrast to any past jihadist movement, it appears able to run a state, its recent setbacks notwithstanding. Unlike the Taliban and al-Shabaab, it inherited a largely functioning infrastructure and civil service and has co-opted parts of the local bureaucracy.

In most cities and towns, sanitation, rubbish collection, schools and clinics still work. Its law enforcement may be draconian but reportedly is not yet corrupt; its internal revenue generation is often extortive but at least so far appears sustainable. It has, like other movements, emphasised the quick and enforced resolution of often longstanding disputes. During the revolution, it overran part of Abyan governorate, including its capital Zinjibar.

Army reinforcements took time to deploy — the army split during the revolution, some factions siding with protesters — but then ousted militants swiftly, with local support. New religious courts are viewed by many locals as fair and swift in contrast to the corrupt and slow official system, which in any case has collapsed. Civil servants are paid, and the city has not suffered the chaos of elsewhere, partly because it is among the few areas not hit by Saudi-coalition bombs.

AQAP looted local banks, but the council generates revenue mostly through taxes on goods, particularly fuel. Shipping companies continue to trade with the al-Qaeda controlled town; though wary of docking in its port, they stop in international waters and smaller boats ferry in goods, including gas. Its leaders meet representatives of Western aid organisations to coordinate relief, as jihadist leaders did in northern Mali in Selling qat is forbidden, but music and TV are not.

It has also responded differently to dissent.

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Boko Haram claims to want to bring Islamic rule to the Lake Chad Basin but pillages captured areas of northern Nigeria, bringing not even the blend of coercion and co-option deployed by some others, let alone any pretence of Sharia. Relations with the Islamic World Analysis Paper, no. Nor would even the more adept groups be credible alternatives in reasonably functioning states. Conditions must be awful before communities accept them or are forced to do so to survive — illustrating again how war and state collapse create settings in which jihadists thrive.

But where their governance is evolving, there are clearly policy implications. It has been common for extremists to win some initial support by bringing basic law and order — especially predictable and enforced dispute resolution — but for that to dissipate fast as their violence becomes arbitrary and their punishments draconian, as they ban music and empower criminals, as services collapse and rubbish piles up.

Will that model hold? Can groups be contained geographically in expectation that over time inhabitants will revolt or support their ouster? Or will they hold territory and deliver services in a way that deepens their ties to communities, furthers their agenda and safeguards a haven from which to launch attacks?

It is too early to say, but more such movements hold land now than ever before, many of the crises that permit them to do so show little sign of abating, and some are learning to calibrate their approach toward those they rule. The extending reach of IS and al-Qaeda-linked groups poses thorny policy dilemmas, especially where they hold territory, but also in places facing an increased risk of terrorist attacks.

World leaders ramping up their rhetoric against IS must learn from mistakes, while redoubling efforts to understand evolving dynamics. Many Western politicians overstate the threat. This is, to a degree, understandable: jihadist attacks target their citizens. But even IS poses no major, let alone existential, peril to their countries. Beyond the human misery it already causes, the gravest risk is that its violence provokes reactions — xenophobia, curtailing of civil liberties, selective policing at home or military adventurism abroad — that aggravate the conditions that enabled its rise, open new opportunities for it in the Muslim world and facilitate recruitment in the West.

Over the past few years, however, jihadist movements have become more powerful than ever before. Elsewhere, military gains have often merely relocated the problem. Russian operations in the North Caucasus have partly caused many jihadists to go to the Levant. In Yemen, without a peace deal between the Huthis and loyalists of former President Saleh on the one hand and forces aligned to the Saudi-led coalition, prospects of ousting al-Qaeda from the territories it controls are bleak.

The longer it brings a semblance of order amid chaos, the stronger it will grow. Even with a peace deal, it may have deepened local ties to such a degree and Yemeni security forces may have become so debilitated that they will struggle to oust violent jihadists as they did in Similarly, reversing jihadist gains in Libya will depend on resolving rivalries between other local forces and persuading them to collaborate against IS.

It will depend, too, on giving areas associated with the Qadhafi regime, which are most vulnerable to IS recruitment, a stronger position in the national fabric and probably also self-defence opportunities. But so long as rivalries between its enemies persist, it will continue to hold the area around Sirte and may extend further east. If the U. More can also be done to engage with diverse Libyan security actors — and promote contact between them — to both build support for the political process and find potential partners against IS. The best starting point against it would be a grand bargain to dial back the Iran-Saudi rivalry that drives both Sunni and Shia radicalism, is a principal obstacle to ending crises across the region and poses a graver threat to global stability than jihadists.

Prospects appear bleak, but urging an entente should be as vital a priority as fighting IS. Without it there is risk of mounting confrontation, with Syria its epicentre and both sides describing their violence as counter-terrorism, that pits an Iran-Baghdad-Damascus-Hizbollah axis, with Russia joining opportunistically, against the mostly Sunni powers in the new Saudi alliance, backed uneasily in the West.

Efforts to narrow other fault lines that open space for jihadists, — between, for example, conservative Arab regimes and the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Kurdish armed groups, now Turkey and Russia and India and Pakistan, should also be redoubled — even if rapprochement seems remote. Thirdly, there is the nature of many affected states. The largest movements have filled vacuums left by state collapse in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen and, to a degree, Afghanistan.

In many vulnerable states and those at war, government behaviour is a main source of grievances driving support for jihadist movements or provoking crises they profit from. Capable, resilient states should be the foundation of efforts against extremism. However, the outlook for recovery, reform and regeneration, particularly in the Arab world, is gloomy.

Little suggests that governments largely responsible for the fourth wave are ready to adapt in ways needed to counter it. Fourthly, leaders in many of the countries most affected simply view the threat differently than their Western counterparts. Some, as described, are more focused on regional rivalries or may fear that action against jihadists would anger religious establishments.

Others see opposition movements as graver threats to their rule or jihadists as useful leverage with the West and a pretext for repressing other rivals. He then gave government posts to some, while sidelining others, even if often retaining ties to them through intelligence services. Throughout the last two decades of his rule, he used the jihadist threat to win Western support, receiving training and weapons to fight al-Qaeda. Despite sporadic crackdowns, usually under U. Some states, notably Pakistan, have badly miscalculated this balancing act, a mistake Turkey may have replicated in Syria.

But contrasting incentives mean anti-jihadist alliances tend to be flimsy, and the U. There is, of course, no single solution. Options against groups like those that captured northern Mali, for example, — that initially enjoyed shallow support, fled when confronted by a serious force and some of which appear to have had transnational goals — differ from those against the Afghan Taliban, which is firmly entrenched in the Pashtun heartlands, largely nationalist, enjoys at least intelligence support and safe havens in Pakistan and has weathered U.

Tackling unpopular Boko Haram, which can hide in the vast desert and bush around Lake Chad but against which regional governments are now reasonably united, requires a very different strategy than in Libya against militants in Benghazi and Derna that other revolutionary brigades view as allies and many residents more as wayward youth than hardened extremists. Understanding local dynamics is critical. Each movement should be tackled individually, not as a global phenomenon.

That said, many pose similar dilemmas. First is on the use of force. Secondly, does the targeted killing of leaders help reduce the threat, either locally or to the West? Thirdly, what engagement is feasible, what ends should it serve and what risks does it entail? The longer it holds a swathe of Iraq and Syria, the stronger its aura of invincibility and the greater its appeal will be. Ousting it or at least putting it on the back foot should thus be a priority.

But IS also thrives in chaos. Woven within its narrative are both its inexorable advance and a strand of apocalyptic thinking that envisages an eventual final battle with Western forces. Reclaiming territory is vital, but doing so at the cost of further alienating Sunnis — having already lost them in the aftermath of the invasion and then by a betrayal of the Awakening — would be counterproductive. The lynchpin of any approach and that must shape any use of force has to be a political strategy to win over the communities in which IS is embedded.

Bombs alone will not do the job. Pounding Raqqa after the Paris attacks had no strategic value; further flattening and driving more residents from homes risks playing into the hands of extremists as much as weakening them. Airstrikes, even if intensified, only work if they reinforce allies on the ground, which raises the question of which forces can lead offensives.

Even when the U. During the Awakening, the U. Replicating that today would be hard, for many reasons. Even hawks in the U. Even a more limited Western deployment, as some recommend — in numbers ranging up to 25,, including military advisers, Special Forces and Quick Reaction Forces — to back local and regional elements would pose enormous hazards for an uncertain return.

Lewis estimated the needs of a first phase alone at 25, In Iraq, the U. Even during its eight-year occupation, the U. Marshalling local and regional forces for the U. Other rebels and their al-Qaeda allies have done the most in Syria against IS, repelling it from the north west, but they cannot fight it successfully in the east while hemmed in by the regime and pounded by Russian airstrikes. So long as the war between regime and rebels rages, training the latter to fight only jihadists has no chance, as shown by the dismal results of U. Arming militias also further degrades the Iraqi state.

Most important, while Baghdad and the U. Tribes joined against AQI only after being convinced that the U. Their bitter experience in the aftermath means that any foreign force would face an uphill battle to win their trust. Unless Western states make an open-ended commitment of troops at far higher levels than seem possible, it will be hard to win back former allies. With a U. Recent offensives have involved warnings to civilians to leave towns and massive airstrikes to oust militants, followed by the Iraqi government, in cooperation with para-state forces, advancing a patchwork of small units — including counter-terrorism forces, retrained Sunni local and federal police and Kurdish forces — to retake territory.

Former Sunni political leaders, displaced by IS, are waiting out the fighting in Baghdad and elsewhere, hoping to recover their legitimacy and reestablish their authority by rebuilding the infrastructure the offensive against IS destroys. The Iraqi government, with the support of the U. This strategy is unlikely to succeed. Iran and, to a degree, Russia oppose any devolution that could empower Sunnis. Renovating the structure of governance will not necessarily imbue it with substance. The key to broad Sunni re-engagement is narrowing the gap between the Sunni leadership and its constituents, particularly young people.

This is especially so if non-ideological supporters of IS are to be prised from its ideologically motivated core, which would not disappear even if ousted from towns. Massive destruction and backing largely discredited leaders who abandoned Sunni areas after the Awakening would be a weak base on which to build a new Sunni political project.

The Sunni character of Anbar is undisputed, but the longstanding regional competition over the multi-ethnic and strategically located Mosul will complicate stabilising the city in the wake of any campaign, which itself will be more complex than any previous ones against IS. Turkey, the Iraqi government, Iran and Shia militias, and the Kurds including both the Kurdish Democratic Party and PKK, themselves at odds with one another are all determined to secure their own interests and, perhaps more important, deny their rivals the same.

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What, then, is the alternative? This starts by limiting the bombing campaign to vital targets and imminent threats, and preventing IS expansion, while squeezing it in every other way so as to erode the aura of invincibility that has convinced communities to cooperate with it and attracted new recruits from around the world.


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  7. Circumstances are different, of course, from a decade ago, when the Sons of Iraq switched sides: IS is more potent than AQI; the Iraqi government is less amenable to Sunni aspirations; the U. The principle, however, should be the same: that trust of residents is a more important asset than territory. It would involve risks that either Iran assumes the lead in combatting it and does so in a counterproductive manner, or that IS endures and its rule normalises; and political costs, including domestically, that the U. Options against IS are especially poor, but other groups pose similar dilemmas.

    Early Pakistani operations against militants hosting al-Qaeda in the tribal areas, for example, launched mostly at U. The army stirred up resistance, was repeatedly forced to retreat and struck deals ceding militants more local authority. Blood on Their Hands. Corruption, insufficient logistics and poor leadership meant desertions were rampant, mutinies common. They may not drive communities to support Boko Haram, but they make them less likely to offer government cooperation, as militants hide in more remote areas.

    Working through auxiliaries is potentially more problematic still. Institute of Peace, 20 May Foreign boots on the ground involve other challenges. There have been some successes: the French Serval operation in Mali quickly ousted al-Qaeda-linked groups from northern towns, creating space for an eventual deal between Tuareg factions and the government. The Iraq invasion, though at first only tangentially linked to counter-terrorism, breathed new life into a global jihadist movement disoriented after the loss of Afghan sanctuaries.

    Even the U. In Afghanistan, U. A further influx of mostly U. As in the Iraqi surge, political failures outweighed military success: a tarnished presidential vote and potential openings for talks with Taliban leaders squandered by U. Instead, their presence has contributed to radicalisation across the region; in some Central Asian states, already threatened by the Afghan upheaval, reliance on closed regimes to keep open supply lines deepened destabilising patterns of rule. In Somalia, too, foreign forces gave impetus to radicals. Al-Shabaab won backing from both Islamists and nationalists opposing the Ethiopian invasion in Many Somalis view troops from neighbouring countries now in the AU mission as occupiers with suspect motives, sentiments al-Shabaab, much like the Taliban, exploits.

    More broadly, the Afghan and Somali experiences highlight the flaws in an approach that combines building centralised state institutions with counter-insurgency but without a wider political strategy that includes reconciliation. The military campaigns in fact work at cross-purposes, relying on local allies whose behaviour is part of the problem and, in some cases, have an interest in perpetrating insecurity. Military aid, meanwhile, has often fed corruption. In Afghanistan, the reduction in foreign forces has left some provincial capitals vulnerable to insurgents, with the U.

    In Mali, perhaps, and certainly against Boko Haram, military action has been necessary. But recent history suggests governments and foreign partners have been too quick to go to war. Framing wars as struggles between governments and extremists is far too simplistic a dichotomy and overlooks complex, multi-layered and often old drivers of violence, a misdiagnosis that inevitably leads to mistakes.

    Many groups prove more resilient than anticipated. Insurgents with strong bonds to communities and who tap genuine grievances that are hard to resolve quickly and military action often aggravates are difficult to uproot. Crisis Group observations, interviews and telephone interviews, Mali, January-February When force is required, too often insufficient regard is paid to its wider impact.

    The past decade is littered with examples of violence either deepening support for extremists or leaving communities caught between their harsh rule and brutal campaigns against them. They perpetrate horrific acts of violence; the suicide bomber, reviled a few years ago as alien across much of the Muslim world, is now ubiquitous. Many fight, however, in conflicts in which all sides violate international law. Targeted killings are a tactic only as effective as the strategy that guides their use.

    They can disrupt extremist networks and potential attacks on the West across great distance and, in the case of drones, without immediate risk to U. But their greatest strength is also a weakness: by taking asymmetrical warfare to the extreme — with all risk of harm born by the target population, including non-combatants, and none by the attackers — drone strikes can destabilise local political conditions and fuel anger. Unless they are integrated into a broader strategy to calm a conflict, their tactical gains come at a cost.

    Drone strikes in Yemen, for years a central component of U. The movement has weathered this, while collateral civilian deaths have fuelled anger, particularly among tribes whose support against al-Qaeda is essential, and driven anti-Western sentiment, even if not direct backing for jihadists. In Somalia, the U. Against large insurgent movements in war zones, particularly those like IS whose inner workings and command structures are opaque, the impact is particularly uncertain.

    Though it may fragment some groups, in the case of a well-organised group like IS a replacement, perhaps more radical, is likely to emerge quickly. See, for example, Cockayne, Hidden Power , op.

    War With Iran Might Be More Costly Than Trump Thinks

    Little suggests targeted killings will help either end the conflicts jihadists fight in or decisively weaken their movements. Talking to IS- and al-Qaeda-linked groups, whether to negotiate over hostages, humanitarian access or an end to violence, poses practical and substantive challenges. There is physical danger to mediators. Leaders may hold views different from those on the front lines. When Iranian state television broadcast images of the destroyed U.

    It can peer into countries from outside their borders and is able to fly as high as 60, feet, a greater altitude than many fighter jets. Iran is estimated to have around , military and security forces, according to a Congressional Research Service CRS report from May. That includes about , regular ground troops. The country purchased more U. I-Hawks surface-to-air missiles.

    Iranian leaders have made it clear that if the U. Iran is in a unique position to do that, having cultivated a network of allied militias via the IRGC which already pose a threat to the U. In the Gaza Strip, Iran has armed and funded the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has bragged about an increasing arsenal in recent years, and moved from primitive projectiles to much longer range missiles.