The CSS Blog Network

10 Takeaways from the Fight against the Islamic State

Image courtesy of DMA Army -Soldiers/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 12 March 2018.

Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.
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Foreign Fighters who Travelled to Syria and Iraq Since 2011

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This graphic traces both the numbers of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq from North African countries, as well as those who have returned to their country of origin or residence since 2011. To find out more about North Africa’s foreign fighters, see Lisa Watanabe’s recent addition to our CSS Analyses in Security Policy series here. For more graphics on peace and conflict, see the CSS’ collection of graphs and charts on the subject here.

The (Overblown) Concerns Linking Foreign Fighters, Civil Wars, and Terrorist Campaigns

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 15 June 2017.

More than 30,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries have entered ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq since 2011. While the flow of these fighters has decreased dramatically over the past twelve months, two important concerns remain regarding foreign fighters. First, foreign fighters could radicalize rebel groups causing an escalation of violence in conflicts, lengthening their duration, and/or reducing opportunities for their resolution. Second, upon the conclusion of their participation in foreign conflicts, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks. In two articles at Research & Politics and Journal of Conflict Resolution, we suggest that both of these concerns are easily exaggerated.

Previous studies present divided evidence as to whether foreign fighters aid or undermine the rebels that they join. On the one hand, data summarizing foreign fighter participation across the period 1900 to 2006 suggest that conflicts involving foreign fighters were more likely, on average, to conclude with insurgent victory than with government victory. On the other hand, in Chechnya, the arrival of foreign fighters perverted the goals of local rebels, negatively affecting their resource and recruitment bases and losing them support within local populations.

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ISIS in Africa: Implications from Syria and Iraq

Courtesy of Birdman Photos/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) on 17 March 2017.

At the end of 2016, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), announced that the group had “expanded and shifted some of our command, media, and wealth to Africa.” ISIS’s Dabiq magazine referred to the regions of Africa that were part of its “caliphate”: “the region that includes Sudan, Chad, and Egypt has been named the caliphate province of Alkinaana; the region that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda as the province of Habasha; the North African region encompassing Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Niger, and Mauritania as Maghreb, the province of the caliphate.” Leaving aside the mismatched ethno-linguistic groupings included in each of these “provinces,” ISIS’s interest in establishing a presence in Africa has long been a part of its vision for a global caliphate.

Battlefield setbacks in ISIS’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria since 2015, however, raise questions of what impact this will have for ISIS’s African aspirations. A useful starting point in considering this question is to recognize that the threat from violent Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but is comprised of a variety of distinct entities. For the most part, these groups are geographically concentrated and focused on local territorial or political objectives. Specifically, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies has identified 5 major categories of militant Islamists groups in Africa. In order of lethality on the continent, these include Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS-linked groups in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Sinai-focused groups.

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Stop Believing in the Many Myths of the Iraq Surge

Courtesy of harveypekar84/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was published by War is Boring on 10 March 2017.

Politicians and military officers continue to insist the 2007 troop surge was a glorious success. It wasn’t.

The other day, I found myself flipping through old photos from my time in Iraq. One in particular from October 2006 stood out. I see my 23-year-old self, along with my platoon. We’re still at Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, posing in front of our squadron logo splashed across a huge concrete barrier.

It was a tradition by then, three and a half years after the invasion of neighboring Iraq, for every Army, Marine and even Air Force battalion at that camp to proudly paint its unit emblem on one of those large, ubiquitous barricades.

Gazing at that photo, it’s hard for me to believe that it was taken a decade ago.

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