Raqqa Has Fallen, Long Road to Eradicating ISIS Ahead

The Freeing of Raqqa and Disarming of ISIS

While many are rejoicing at the fall of Raqqa and the freeing of thousands of trapped civilians, ISIS has retrenched itself in the Oil Rich Deir Ezzor Countryside from Al Qurraya through Qa’im and while maintaining a presence in Western Iraq.

Syrian Force advances in Deir Ezzor, reported by Almanar are bolstered by the capture of ISIS weapons caches of seized NATO, U.S., and Israeli armaments.

PressTV Video of seized NATO and Israeli armaments

The Financial State of ISIS Today

ISIS’s territory has been reduced by over 50 percent from this time in 2016, however their nexus across the Syria and Iraq borders hides the manifestation of risk they pose.

ISIS has lost the capitals of Mosul and Raqqa — however retrenching in Deir Ezzor places them in a position to continue selling oil on the black market to generate revenue.

Deir Ezzor is an oil rich region which could easily facilitate the subsidizing of their war and terror efforts and is a significant concern, as regional players and recently French companies have been discovered purchasing oil from ISIS.

Zaman Al Wasl uncovered reported purchases of oil for toxic material by LaFargeHolcim which was followed by a resignation of their CEO. As ISIS is now in control of major oil again, following losses of wells near Raqqa — oil for arms or illegal sales risks loom large.

ISIS has been known to leverage Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin and Altcoins) for donations and human-trafficking. Dark web transactions of oil or human trafficking increases the risk of ISIS’s continued access to capital for terror efforts.

The Online State of ISIS Today

ISIS’s online presence continues unabated, with their social media operations continuing. ISIS’s Twitter presence has been reduced by 45 percent over the past two years, however their shift to a diverse set of apps including Telegram, Surespot, Facebook, Instagram and their own "Alrawi" social app continues their high-risk level threat.

Online recruiting campaigns targeting "Jillenials" or secular Millenials (aged 20 to 35) looking for meaning is coupled with ISIS recruitment efforts that target a second profile of disaffected youth with violent or "cool" messaging. We call this latter group "Chilladis," a contraction of "Chill" and 'Jihadi."

One thing to consider is that Millennials live in and under a world of social media influencers, with millions of followers, who wield no actual influence on life beyond popularity. ISIS preys on this communication vacuum. This is an area where only interfaith engagement and education to teach youth and Millenials that ISIS is a cult not a cause.

Ongoing online disruption requires modern social media education of counterintelligence organizations, public-private partnerships and development of outbound digital strategies that counter their recruiter messaging. ISIS is estimated to have several hundred to a thousand people working on social media and recruitment. Disrupting this will require a concerted effort — especially in Europe — where the problem is engaging disaffected youth living in ghettoes, with options before ISIS targets them.

The War Ahead 

Taking down ISIS in Raqqa is a step in the right direction — but as the Memo Mideast Monitor points out, the road ahead may be far more complicated.

On the ground the U.S.-led coalition has to contend with ISIS forces following ceasefires in regional battles, such as where Hezbollah declared a ceasefire with ISIS to get them out of conflicts on the border of Lebanon. 

ISIS satellites, such as ISIS-K (Formerly Waliyat Khurasan) in Afghanistan and the remnants of the Maute forces partnered with ISIS in the Philippines underscore the global risk that still exists once they’re defeated in Deir Ezzor. ISIS has also declared its support for the Emir of Boko Haram in Africa — with Boko entangled in conflicts across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. So that will have to stay on National Security counterterrorism radar.

The Road to Rebuilding

A long term Solution to ISIS will only be met by the rebuilding of Syria with the participation of coalition partners — Ideally with a U.S. assisted framework that partners with the Saudis, Iraqis, Turks, Lebanese, Jordanians — as they have seen dealt with the war firsthand. Rebuilding is tantamount to regional security — for Syria and her Muslim and Jewish neighbors alike.

A Marshall Plan for Syria should be considered, as the rebuilding will aid in the reduction of Iran’s influence in the region — through the drawdown of Iranian troops supporting the Syrian regime. Further, stabilization will aid in reducing longer term border conflicts with Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. This would also prevent the potential for civil war. Assad will still be an issue — but one that can possibly be worked through, the same way we’ll have to contend with Russia’s ambitious hegemony in the region.

The Saudis may be the unlikely partner to assist in all of this, as Saudi Arabia and Iraq recently opened borders and begun talks that had stalled for 30 years. Saudi Arabia also has representatives in Raqqa — now aiding in discussions.

However it plays out — it’s important to keep in mind that the security of America and our allies — for the next 20 years may hinge on a rebuilding resolution that transitions Syria back from war to stability that ensures progress towards Mideast peace.

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