Now is not a time to become complacent, nor is it a time to believe terrorists have once and for all been conquered.
The capture of Raqqa, capital of forces of the Islamic State group for more than four years, is a major victory for U.S.-led forces in the region, but it’s not a time to declare victory over terrorism.
As CNN reported, the Islamic State group now controls only small towns scattered through the desert. The “caliphate,” or rule by a religious leader, has ended in all major cities. The group now can only attempt to unite its followers online.
But terrorists are capable of causing much destruction without the control of important territory. The Islamic State group, in particular, has been successful in inspiring lone-wolf crimes in the United States and elsewhere without its direct involvement.
There is little reason for local police departments in Utah or elsewhere to stop being on guard against such things, nor for U.S. military forces to believe their work is done.
And the Islamic State group, or factions of its former followers, easily could attempt to rebrand themselves and again take advantage of seething anti-West anger in the region.
The Islamic State group, itself, grew out of AQI, or “al-Qaida in Iraq,” which began in 2004 when U.S. forces were struggling to establish an independent government in Iraq. In 2013, it merged with an affiliate of al-Qaida forces in Iraq.
It was during President Barack Obama’s second term that the Islamic State group began acquiring territory in Syria, establishing its own system of taxation and using extortion and oil exports to fund its operations. Its unique brand of cruelty led to a rift with al-Qaida, which cut ties with the group in 2014, and soon it began inspiring terrorist attacks around the world, calling for followers to wage all-out war on the West.
The Islamic State group gained popularity initially by exploiting ethnic divisions through guerrilla tactics. There is little reason to believe it or other nascent groups now won’t use similar tactics to gain power and control.
Raqqa’s current situation offers examples of how this might happen. The city’s Arab population, many who were forced to flee, are mostly Sunni. They remain heavily persecuted by the Russian-backed Syrian regime, which controls territory not far from Raqqa. The Kurds who helped U.S. forces in the region are adamant about wanting their own homeland.
Add to this the many residents of Raqqa who stayed in place and who now are forced to live amid rubble, in many cases mourning the loss of loved ones and wondering whom to blame.
No one should claim that peace has come to Raqqa or the surrounding area. Much now depends upon coalition forces and their ability to establish a stable government that provides basic necessities and that rules through reasonable laws, not force. Much depends, too, on Russian-backed forces not trying to assert power over the city.
For all intents, the Islamic State group now has been discredited and defeated. The U.S. military and the Syrian Democratic Forces it supports deserve credit for that. But in the whack-a-mole game that is terrorism in a region dominated by despair, hatred and revenge, now is hardly the time to relax.