By Jim Emerson
The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was created in the spring of 2010. It has evolved from a rag tag group of terrorists to become a full blown Army those now controls large swaths of territory across Syria and northern Iraq. In June 2014, ISIL’s founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the captured territory a caliphate and shortened its name to Islamic State. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point ran an article by Michael Knights detailing the raise of the terrorist organization from the fall of al Qaeda in Iraq to the rise of the Islamic state. (1) He points out that a thorough analysis of the Islamic State’s recent accomplishments would be difficult due to the lack of intelligence after the collapse of Iraq’s federal security forces in Mosul last June.
Since its reboot in 2010 The Islamic State under al-Baghdadi’s leadership slowly rebuilt itself steadily strengthening and actively shaping well focused planning of future operation. Its early attack on pro-government targets during multi-year operations against on-duty and off-duty Iraqi security forces was part of the group’s preparatory operations that weakened their military opposition.
The American withdrawal from Iraq and the coming Syrian civil war allowed the Islamic State to create secure bases of operations to train jihadists by drawing on the combat experiences of urban and mobile warfare fighters from Syria, Iraq, Balkans and Chechnya. ISIL has used this time to build a highly-motivated cadre of quality light infantry forces. Their training camps were set up in northern Iraq complete with anti-aircraft defenses to keep out helicopters.
ISIL’s success on the battlefield has been in offensive moves but its glaring weakness is defending its territory. As a defensive force ISIL has a difficult time holding its ground from sophisticated attack from well-trained armed forces. The Kurds have been effective in forcing the terrorist group to retreat when confronted with simultaneous attacks at multiple points. ISIL operation depends on non-direct attacks and mobility and will have to depend on hit and run operations. As a terrorist origination it will be around a long time, as a caliphate it can only last until the world gets tired of their existence and decides to act. This, however, could take a very long time.