A soldier sets up voice intercept equipment during a cyber integration exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, October 21, 2015

commentary

(The National Interest)

May 30, 2017

What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground

A soldier sets up voice intercept equipment during a cyber integration exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, October 21, 2015

Photo by Capt. Meredith Mathis/U.S. Army

by Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena

As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continues to suffer defeats on the battlefield, it may be moving into terrain that is relatively nascent and somewhat unfamiliar to Western counterinsurgents—cyberspace.

Analysts have expressed concern that ISIS may turn to virtual currencies to fund future attacks. These currencies can be used as part of an effort to mask the organization's illicit transactions while enabling it to support attacks in areas outside of its control. And the organization has a history of broadly using cyberspace and technology in innovative ways.

ISIS is attempting to develop its own social-media architecture to help its members avoid security crackdowns on communications exchanged and content posted by the group, according to Europol, Europe's police agency. An expanded social-media presence would also enable ISIS to continue to encourage attacks abroad as the group retrenches, but perhaps with greater frequency.

ISIS is losing territory and struggling financially. Its fighters are fleeing, and its leadership is being targeted at a frenetic pace. Throughout the Arab and Islamic world, ISIS had been losing support through 2016—given the group's military losses, that trend has likely continued in the past year. And in what appears to be a rather desperate attempt to continue fighting, the organization is increasingly relying on elderly militants to conduct suicide attacks.

Despite such adversity, it is highly likely that ISIS will not be defeated in the coming months and years. Even where ISIS is displaced or temporarily dislodged from physical territory, disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations will probably continue sympathizing with the group's objective to establish a caliphate. Those not ideologically disposed to ISIS still perceive it a more suitable protector of Sunni interests than either the Syrian or Iraqi governments....

The remainder of this commentary is available on nationalinterest.org.


Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena are political scientists at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on May 29, 2017.