•We should not think that the fight against Daesh (Islamic State, IS) is over.
•Daehs in Iraq and Syria likely to morph into insurgent movement capable of sustaining disruptive activities.
•Despite loss of territory and lucrative oil assets, diversification of funding sources will ensure sustainability of the group.
•States with relatively weak governance and rule of law the most vulnerable to establishment of large Daesh regional hubs.
•As foreign fighters return home in greater numbers, the Daesh threat will become a larger security challenge globally.
On 13 February 2018, foreign ministers from the 74-member International Coalition against the Islamic State (IS, Daesh) met in Kuwait City, Kuwait to discuss the latest developments regarding the ongoing anti-Daesh operations and to strategise the eradication of the organisation in Iraq and Syria. The meeting was part of the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq (KICRI), that took place in February 2018.
During the summit, member states discussed the option to press on with the anti-Daesh fight, which extends globally. Despite territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, the organisation has morphed into an insurgent movement that is still capable of disrupting security and stability in Iraq and Syria. The decline also does not mean a reduction in capability at the international level.
Time and time again Daesh has demonstrated its capabilities to execute, sponsor or influence terrorist attacks internationally through a loose network of affiliates, cells and individuals. As foreign members flee Iraq and Syria, the organisation spreads its operational reach with combat-hardened fighters able to recruit and train another generation of believers. Global mobility is relatively easily achieved given that Daesh collected thousands of foreign and blank Syrian passports. While Interpol has registered these passports, individual states may not be able to track their usage due to the paucity of information sharing with certain governments.
In country the organisation’s influence permeates through vulnerable communities via individuals and cells acting with a degree of autonomy. Operating through these loose networks magnifies the difficulty in detecting, monitoring and neutralising them.
Reports continue to emerge of fighters relocating in states with weak governments and the rule of law. Libya, Somalia, Mali and Afghanistan are likely going to become the next centres of gravity for Daesh’s regional affiliates. In Southeast Asia, Daesh had short-lived success in capturing the southern Philippine city of Marawi in 2017. It served as a propaganda boon and emboldened its supporters.
Financially, the halcyon days are largely over. According to Forbes Magazine, Daesh had estimated revenues of USD3 billion in 2014 and 2015. This has been decimated to around USD200 million in 2017. Without the burden of running a “proto-state” and paying “public sector” wages, the organisation can bolster its funding of terrorist operations at the international level. Loss of oil assets means that Daesh has been forced to migrate to new forms of revenue-generation such as allegedly running online casinos. Extortion, smuggling, ransom payments, theft, charitable donations and taxation will still form the basis of funding, but its successful evolution from start-up to multinational franchise has largely been due to its ability to diversify its sources of funding.
Despite sustaining military defeat in Iraq and Syria, Daesh does not show any significant signs of slowing the pace of their global insurgency. A look at al-Qaeda, an organisation formally established in 1988, still is significant multinational terrorist threat. Daesh has already compounded the global threat and likely to do so for another decade or more.