slaughter72_Jean-Pierre REYGamma-Rapho via Getty Images_isis online Jean-Pierre Rey/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

ISIS 2.0 and the Information War

The Islamic State (ISIS) has launched a new worldwide communications offensive, enabling the group to contest the global view that it has been defeated following the collapse of its caliphate. In doing so, ISIS has created a digital battlespace in which an online narrative of victory can translate into success on the ground.

WASHINGTON, DC – In December 2018, US President Donald Trump declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS), tweeting that “ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!” And in the first three months of this year, Trump said or tweeted 16 times that ISIS was either completely defeated or soon would be.

But the United States government appears to disagree. In August, the three lead inspectors general from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and the US Agency for International Development submitted a joint report to Congress reviewing Operation Inherent Resolve, the US campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, over the period from April 1 through June 30 of this year. They concluded that, “Despite the loss of physical territory, thousands of ISIS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria and are carrying out attacks and working to rebuild their capabilities.”

The ISIS resurgence is partly the result of Trump’s December 2018 decisions to withdraw all US troops from Syria and halve the number in Afghanistan, which prompted Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign and made America’s regional security partners less able to conduct counterterrorism operations. In Iraq, ISIS is regrouping and building clandestine terrorist cells in key areas of Baghdad, Ninewa, and Al Anbar provinces, and in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. In Syria, the group is mounting strong counteroffensives in Al-Raqqah and Homs province, and is aggressively seeking to establish a safe-haven zone.

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