Mosul, Raqqa Not the End of ISIS

Middle East analysts agree that the liberation of ISIS strongholds in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, are “necessary but no longer sufficient” to ultimately defeat the terrorist organization. “We have to stop imagining that once we take Mosul and Raqqa that ISIS will be out of the urban areas,” said Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War. She was joined by Andrew Exum, deputy secretary of defense for Middle East Policy, on a panel at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 17. Exum agreed, saying the Department of Defense “is under no illusion that the fight will end once Mosul and Raqqa are taken.” Still, Exum said, “there are not many places for [ISIS] to go,” and all of their remaining options in the Middle East represent “more difficult terrain,” like Turkey, where security forces are better organized to resist. Exum said he expects ISIS to focus less on building a caliphate and “shift back to terrorism.” Kagan said such a strategy would focus on weakening strong states, “eroding Turkey, eroding Saudi Arabia, eroding Jordan.” A key part of this strategy, she said, will involve ISIS sending a “diaspora of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria” around the world to plan attacks. In response to this shift, Exum said the US and coalition forces will need to “collapse on that parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria “while paying attention to where the metastases go after that.” Kagan was not optimistic about how quickly the defeat of ISIS would play out in such a scenario: “this is a generational fight,” she said, “so get ready.” (See also The Fight Against ISIS After Mosul and Raqqa.)