The last six months of 2022 are seen as “exceptional” for ISIS, and specifically its leaders, who have become a regular target of the “strategy to blow up” that the United States largely waged in its ongoing war. adopted against. the terrorist organization.
A few days ago, the Pentagon announced the death of ISIS leader in Syria, Maher Al-Aqal, after he was targeted by an airstrike from a drone while riding a motorcycle in the Jenderes area in the northern countryside traveled. of Aleppo.
The incident took place less than a month after a landing operation carried out by the US-led international coalition in the city of Jarabulus, north of Aleppo, where they arrested and previously arrested Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, known as “Saleem”. held the post. of “Wali of Raqqa” in the organization.
These two incidents were preceded by a “major” US attack, in January 2022, in which US forces killed “ISIS” leader Abdullah Qardash, known as “Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi”, after an airstrike in the place performed. where he hid, north of Idlib governor.Syries.
Although the war that the United States started against ISIS is not new, but dates back to 2014, it currently differs, in terms of the objectives on the one hand and the mechanism by which the strikes are carried out on the other.
While the US strikes, especially since the beginning of this year, have focused on the heads of ISIS and senior leaders, it has been noted that the mechanism has been limited to the “strategy of hitting from above” or “hitting from the air”, according to observers. says, referring to the implementation of the targets carried out by drones.
Commenting on the assassination of Maher al-Aqal, US President Joe Biden said the elimination of al-Aqal “sends a strong message to all terrorists who threaten the world.”
“Today’s operation makes it clear that the United States does not need to send thousands of troops on combat missions to identify and eliminate the threats they face,” he stressed in a statement.
“This air strike is the culmination of determined and meticulous intelligence work, and stands as a testament to the courage and skill of our armed forces,” the US president added.
Al-Aqal’s name was never regularly mentioned on the list of people in charge of ISIS affairs, but after his death he was found to be one of the group’s “five leaders”, according to the Pentagon statement.
While the Pentagon did not specify the names of the remaining figures at the top of the “ISIS” pyramid, Maher Farghali, a researcher in the affairs of extremist groups, explains that the remaining leaders are: Commander-in-Chief Juma Awad al-Badri , brother of “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”, “Abu Muhammad al-Masri” and “Abu Hashem Al-Jazrawi, Ziad Jawhar Abdullah, Bashar Khattab Ghazal Al-Sumaida’i, Nayef Hamad Shaya ‘, Abu Saleh Al-Jazrawi, Abu Saad Al-Libi, Abu Abdullah Al-Qadi Al-Ghulami.
In an interview with Al-Hurra, Farghali refers to other names confined to the “Delegate Committee”, chaired by Moataz Noman Abdul Nayef Al-Jubouri, Ziad Jawhar Abdullah, Bashar Khattab Ghazal Al-Sumaidi and Nayef Hamad Shiaa.
The researcher was of the opinion that “beating the leaders will not affect the organization’s work, especially since they are being replaced by other leaders, while maintaining secrecy in the choice of new names.”
Farghali added, “The strikes could affect the disruption of the organization for a while, and the loss of field leaders. But ISIS sees this as continuing and will work to replace the leaders.”
This is what the researcher in the affairs of extremist groups, Hassan Abu Haniyeh, also sees, while indicating that the American escalation in the target of ISIS leaders is linked to the criticism to which the Biden administration is exposed about the approach taken is to fight terrorism. .
Abu Haniyeh explains to Al-Hurra: “There is criticism because of the preoccupation with Ukraine, and that the issue of terrorism is no longer important.”
Through the strikes, the Biden administration, according to the researcher, wants to say that “we will not leave the region and fight terrorism”, while emphasizing the strategy of the absence of forces on the ground, and the success of the strategy of strike word. from the air, through intelligence work and drones.
Temporary or permanent effect?
And a few days later, the “Mahal Al-Aqal strike” was separated from the publication of an opinion piece by US Senator Lindsey Graham on “Fox News”, where he warned that “the rise of ISIS in Syria is a threat to our American way of life. “
Graham called on US President Joe Biden and Congress to work together to find a solution in Syria before it is too late.
The solution lies in the idea of the US senator who has visited Turkey and Syria in recent days to target in particular the problem that threatens the north and east of the country, represented by the legitimate national security issues of Turkey, and the corresponding military formation that Ankara sees as a threat to it, which is Syrian Democratic Forces.
“The challenge for us to move forward is how do we support those who helped us destroy the ISIS caliphate without undermining Turkish national security? This problem seemed to the Republican and Democratic administrations,” Graham added.
The above calls for “urgent attention”, according to the senator, noting that “ISIS has resurfaced in northeastern Syria,” and therefore the gains America has made in destroying the caliphate are “in jeopardy.”
Despite the heavy blows it suffered, especially in Syria, ISIS is still active in the military and security, whether in the Syrian desert or the territories controlled by the “Syrian Democratic Forces” in the east and the territories occupied by the Syrian regime and the opposition are controlled. factions, in the rest of the country.
Researcher Abu Haniyeh spoke of “a new generation that I do not think the Americans or others know their place”, away from the traditional leaders known by hesitant names.
The investigator added: “ISIS is conducting an operation here and failing in another there, and this is a normal thing. Al-Baghdadi can escape persecution and then be killed. This is normal and not strange, and it is present in all movements. “
While Maher al-Aqal is considered a “success”, he has “definitely established structures, and the organizational structure of ISIS is solid and capable of putting people in its place,” according to Abu Haniyeh.
And he continues, “America indicates that he is one of the 5 important people in ISIS. I do not think that what is said is true, but he is at least one of the known important people.”
In turn, researcher Maher Farghali explains that “America’s policy of hunting from above is old and continues to weaken organizations, but ISIS continues to exist in rough places and a vast geographic area.”
Farghali added, “He has other influential leaders still present. Al-Aqal has maintained ISIS in Syria. Its loss has a temporary and not permanent effect.”
After the assassination of “Al-Qurashi”, and while opinions agreed that the strike was “critical of ISIS”, she confirmed in another direction that the danger of his activities could continue in the next stage, especially since most attacks are based on “decentralized” decisions, i.e. each group separately.
In February 2022, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, warned against the revival of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, saying: “Al-Qaeda, ISIS and its affiliates are still considered serious threats while terrorist attacks based on xenophobia, racism and intolerance are on the rise. ”
“ISIS ‘regional branches outside Syria and Iraq have continued to expand on a worrying scale and speed, thanks to the proliferation of conventional and other weapons, especially in fragile conflict areas,” he added.
Prior to that, in July 2021, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a report explaining that “ISIS ‘strategic perception of geography, time, and victory is a critical component of its potential future revival.”
Although ISIS has suffered severe blows over the past fifteen years, it has proven its great resilience, even expanding its territory and diversifying its operations in 2020 and 2021.
The report added that the organization “has a unique and well-established ideology, shaped by the statements of its senior leaders, and well-adjusted to the recent regional losses.”
From this point of view, and going forward, it will be necessary to address and understand the ideological practices of the organization in order to combat any future revival thereof effectively.