War brief on ISIS: A possible new frontier

Seamus Dowdall, Contributing Writer

With the ongoing battle over the key city of Mosul, Iraq, one may observe that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (or ISIS) has begun to see a contraction in its regional influence and power. The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) have surrounded the city and taken back key villages, while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has issued a final televised ultimatum to ISIS for its recapture of Mosul: “Surrender or die.”

Losing territorial control over Mosul, a holding which has been viewed as their de facto capital in Iraq for almost two years, would be devastating to the internal stability of ISIS. Furthermore, multiple media sources have cited that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph, is currently hiding in Mosul and could be targeted during the Iraqi invasion. If he were to be killed, this would deal a serious blow to the cohesion and strength of ISIS, as a new caliph would need to emerge and continue to direct the operations of the extremist group.

The question on my mind is this: what will become of ISIS when Mosul is inevitably lost? While some may praise a fall of Mosul as the end of ISIS regional influence, there has been increasing evidence of a shift in strategy for ISIS from Middle East influence to infiltrating vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been several instances of ISIS attacks in these two countries which have pointed to an increase in ISIS presence within them.

On Oct. 25, ISIS claimed responsibility for executing a massacre on a police academy in Pakistan, killing 61 people and injuring over 100. This event symbolizes a marked increase in the presence of ISIS sympathizers and operators within Pakistan’s borders; whereas the presence of ISIS in Pakistan was only officially recognized by Pakistani military figures early this past September.

Similar developments can be seen in Afghanistan: in Kabul last week, 30 people were kidnapped and killed while searching for wood for the winter in the Ghor mountains. ISIS activity within Afghanistan’s borders has been present as early as the summer of 2015, and both the Unite States-led coalition against ISIS as well as ISOF have expressed concerns for the rise of ISIS influence.

The effort for Pakistan and Afghanistan to jointly address ISIS has been hampered by their complicated bilateral relationship. One particularly important development is the increasingly amicable relationship between Afghanistan and India, highlighted most recently by a $1 billion economic aid package promise from New Delhi to Kabul. Pakistan and India have a long history of tenuous relations.

This deal has given Pakistan the impression of isolation and has hampered joint agreement on potential action. This difficult diplomatic climate could foster a more fertile environment for ISIS to take hold and grow membership, particularly among disaffected youth. Will these crucial countries find common cause against ISIS and work together, or will we begin to see a geostrategic shift in ISIS operations and focus?

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