April 21, 2016 | Quoted by Jeff Seldin, Sharon Behn - Voice of America

Despite Coalition Military Gains, No End in Sight in Anti-IS Campaign

The Kurdish Peshmerga commander sat on a couch at his headquarters in Sulaymaniyah. On a nearby table there was a bowl of dried fruit and nuts. Two large sniper rifles lay on the floor by his desk.

“The longer ISIS stays, the more it becomes fashionable to youngsters with no hope, to all these youngsters who have been oppressed by the government here, in Syria, in other countries” he said in his British accent, using a common acronym for the Islamic State.

“They are not going to go away. ISIS is not going to be finished as soon as Mosul and Raqqa are taken,” he warned. “It's going to be continuous. It's not going to stop.”

The assessment just a few weeks ago from Polad Jangi, in charge of counterterrorism operations south of Mosul in the Kirkuk-Sulaymaniyah area, is far more grim than the latest public assessments by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama.

It also may be much more realistic, however, according to several military and intelligence officials, who say that while gains by the U.S.-led coalition are real, they are on the periphery of Islamic State’s core holdings and are far from a death blow.


“If you look at their offensive in Anbar, the one that [Abu Omar al] Shishani led back in 2014, he didn’t use that many men to capture territory,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “He used a relatively light force to capture a significant amount of territory.

“They face an uphill battle, but I also wouldn’t count them out in terms of their ability to surprise us and take territory again,” he said.

Still, Gartenstein-Ross cautions it may take many more losses before Islamic State’s narrative of continued growth is put to the test, especially if it is able to conduct additional terror attacks outside Iraq and Syria.

“They have a core audience that’s not viewing them very critically,” he said. “So they’re not close to a tipping point in terms of that core audience.”


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