Analysis: ISIS loses its capitol, but not its identity

WASHINGTON — On the third anniversary of the launch and deployment of the U.S.-led coalition “to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh,” Syrians are dancing in the streets. ISIS has been run out of Raqqa, but the fight to liberate the city, and the world for that matter, from ISIS’ reign of terror is far from over.

“We are aware of the reports that ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa. However, clearance operations continue and we expect our Syrian Democratic Force partners to hit pockets of resistance as the final parts of the city are cleared,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.

Many thousands of Syrian men, women and children paid a heavy price as ISIS inflicted once-unspeakable atrocities such as beheading, drowning and burning on them during its three-year reign.

While that element of the nightmare is over, others linger.

Hidden booby traps are rigged in buildings; land mines litter the streetscape, and stealthy pockets of ISIS fighters lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce.

With the ISIS leadership long gone from Raqqa, the foreign terrorist fighters left behind are expected to fight to the death.

The so-called “caliphate” is gone, but ISIS has already achieved its goal of penetrating the digital world and establishing a virtual “caliphate” online. Authorities in many countries are worried about returning foreign fighters who may await instructions to further ISIS’ murderous objectives, recruit other operatives to plan and launch attacks or to inspire self-radicalized sympathizers to attack.

Simply put, ISIS’ last stronghold has fallen, but in reality, it no longer needs a physical headquarters to perpetuate its dark ideology of global domination.

The defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is a strong symbolic achievement for the West. But the challenge ahead is to make sure the circumstances that led to the rise of ISIS — weak governance, corruption and ethnic conflict — are effectively addressed.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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