After the loss of ISIS territories in Iraq and Syria, the group is still a concrete threat to civilians but also to the armed forces on the ground. It also continues to inspire attacks in Europe, like that of December in Strasbourg.
“We defeated ISIS in Syria”. This is what Donald Trump asserts in a tweet posted on December 19, 2018. His Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, does the same in a speech delivered at the Davos summit on January 22, 2019. What about is he really on the ground? A report released Wednesday (January 23rd) by the International Center for Terrorism Analysis Jane (JTIC) confirms a weakening of the nuisance capacity of the group. It shows that jihadists perpetrated 1,327 attacks in 2018, a 71% decrease from the previous year.
According to the JTIC report, ISIS’s territorial losses in Iraq and Syria have “significantly reduced the group’s ability to operate.” However, ISIS-led jihadist attacks worldwide have claimed the lives of 3,151 people, or about 23% of the total number of victims of terrorism in 2018. And the threat has not decreased in the area. Syrian-Iraqi. Franceinfo has analyzed several indicators to try to draw the reality on the ground.
- Nearly three times less claims claimed in 2018 than in 2016
It is through the voice of his propaganda agency, Amaq, that ISIS is claiming its operations. In these communiques, published in several languages, the group assumes the authorship of attacks, attacks or assassinations perpetrated around the world. It is therefore a marker that reflects the activity of the group, even if some claims have sometimes been wrong. To measure this activity, we relied on Amaq’s census of press releases operated by the extremist network monitoring group SITE.
The number of actions claimed by the Islamic State has almost halved in recent months compared to the number of operations perpetrated in 2016 or 2017: 384 actions were claimed in 2018 against 500 in 2017 and 922 in 2016. But the threat remains present. Sixteen people were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS on 16 January in Minbej (Syria), and five others on 21 January near Chadadi, in the north-east of the country, in areas where the group yet lost control of the territory. “IS remains able to strike where it wants,” said Wassim Nasr, journalist specializing in jihadist groups, in an interview with France 24.
According to him, the Islamic State group “has returned to an insurrectional mode of operation, in force between 2007 and 2013 in Iraq”. The operations carried out by the jihadists aim to “harass […], to keep the adversary under pressure”, they take the form of “attacks or suicide attacks, attacks on dams or convoys or targeted killings “. Anti-Jihadist fighters anticipate an “intensification of [that kind] of IS operations against our forces once we have ended their military presence,” as the commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (FDS) points out. ), the Arab-Kurd alliance in Syria supported by the international coalition, in an interview with AFP on January 25.
- Six times less bombs dropped by Western planes in 2018
Another criterion that reflects the reality of the war against members of the Islamic State group: the intensity of bombing by the international coalition led by the United States. According to data released by the US Air Force Command, 6,499 bombs were dropped by coalition aircraft in Syria and Iraq between January and November 2018, against 39,577 in 2017.
While US President Donald Trump has announced the start of withdrawal of ground troops in Syria, the number of bombs dropped has yet gone up in recent months. This trend observed in November 2018 is confirmed in the latest figures released (link in English) by the coalition. Between December 30, 2018 and January 12, 2019, 575 strikes took place in Syria and 13 in Iraq.
For Wassim Nasr, questioned by franceinfo, the reasons for this increase depend on the targeted areas: “In the Mosul region of Iraq, it is linked to an upsurge of the Islamic State, while in Syria it is in support for the Syrian Democratic Forces’ current campaign, which has been paused for several reasons (weather, lack of recruits, etc.) “.
- As many civilians killed in Syria in 2018 as in Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and the Philippines combined
To measure the level of violence on the ground, we also used data collected by researchers from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), which compiles all violent actions taken in the context of ongoing conflicts. in Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia since 1997. In its assessment of the year 2018 (in English), the NGO indicates that Syria and Iraq are among the four countries that gather 60% reported violence, with Yemen and Afghanistan. The violent events recorded do not only concern the Islamic State group but all the actors present in the field.
In the case of Syria, the number of battles and attacks has been halved between 2017 and 2018. However, the country remains the most dangerous for civilians, in the area analyzed by researchers at Acled, which has 77 different countries. It is also the third country in terms of deaths, all populations combined, behind Afghanistan and Yemen. According to their statement, 26,654 people (civilians, military or jihadists) died in the country in 2018. In 2017, the count reached 52,905 dead.
Distance violence (explosive devices, drones …) is the most important part of the violent events recorded. As for the violence against civilians, they are 56% by the army of Bashar Al-Assad in 2018, according to data from Acled.
In Iraq, where Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared victory against ISIS at the end of 2017 after four years of conflict, the number of violent incidents reported by Acled researchers is also declining. ISIS jihadists still pose a real threat, especially to civilians. In 2018, 6,089 people died in violence, including 400 in actions against civilians, against 32,700 and 3,228, respectively, in 2017.
Should we see in these indicators the end of Islamic State in the Levant? In his book The Worse of the World, published January 17 at Tallandier, the director of the French Institute of International Relations, Thomas Gomart, indicates that “the collapse of Daesh as a proto-state does not mean its annihilation as its ideology and methods have spread all over the world. ” Wassim Nasr extends this analysis on France 24: according to him, “the setting aside of the territorial ambitions” of the Islamic State group is a “tactical choice” planned, which allows the jihadists to “constitute a permanent threat”. Finally, he reminds franceinfo that the Islamic State group is “in a logic of expansion in Africa and South Asia, which are the new epicenters of its activity”.