On 13 November, terrorists struck Paris, taking the lives of 129 innocent people. As details of the attack continue to be brought to light, the suspected perpetrators are believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL). Two weeks earlier, Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed in the Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. It is now believed that crash was the result of a terror attack, again perpetrated by ISIS. In response to both terror attacks, France and Russia have increased air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
The French have been supporting coalition strikes against ISIS with Operation Chammal. Following the terror attacks, 12 French fighter-bombers struck the ISIS de-facto capital of Al-Raqqa. The Russians unleashed 24 heavy bombers against Al-Raqqa, delivering a mix of cruise missiles and conventional bombs. Russia has also considered adding additional ground troops to Syria. In September, Russia activated 150,000 reservists. While these troops could be used in the Ukraine, with a terror attack by ISIS, those troops may see a deployment to Syria.
ISIS’s control has begun to wane in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds have taken the important city of Sinjar, in northern Iraq, severing the logistical supply route from Al-Raqqa to Mosul. With the loss of Sinjar, ISIS will have a very difficult time resupplying and reinforcing Mosul. As the Iraqi Army gains strength, a push into Mosul will be inevitable. The Russian involvement in Syria has bolstered the Assad regime. With Russian air craft carrying the bulk of airstrikes against ISIS and rebel forces, the Syrians can divert their focus to strengthening their depleted armed forces. While the United States and Coalition forces do not want to see the Assad regime remain in power, the greatest threat in the region is ISIS. With the loss of a stronghold and base of operations, ISIS will be put on the run; much like al-Qaeda was following the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Long-term victory will remain difficult. Defeating an asymmetric threat cannot be achieved through conventional means. While conventional forces may drive ISIS underground, it will be an asymmetric strategy that will finally defeat this enemy. The war will remain difficult, and with ISIS losing ground in Syria, they will resort to terror campaigns to remain relevant. Those battling ISIS need to be vigilant.