ISIS ‘caliphate’ crumbling?

The Guardian reports that as military pressure continues against ISIS in Syria foreign fighters are trying to get out of the caliphate.

Isis faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic Stateand trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Sources within Isis have confirmed that the group’s ranks in its last redoubt in Syria have rapidly shrunk as a ground offensive has edged towards Raqqa and Tabqa in the country’s north-east, where foreign fighters had been extensively deployed over the past four years.

Officials in Turkey and Europe say an increasing number of Isis operatives who have joined the group since 2013 have contacted their embassies looking to return. Other, more ideologically committed members are thought to be intent on using the exodus to infiltrate Turkey and then travel onwards to Europe to seek vengeance for the crumbling caliphate, raising renewed fears of strikes on the continent.

Among them, western intelligence agencies believe, are prominent members of the group’s external operations arm, who joined Isis from numerous European countries including Britain, France and Belgium, as well as Australia. At least 250 ideologically driven foreigners are thought to have been smuggled to Europe from late 2014 until mid-2016, with nearly all travelling through Turkey after crossing a now rigidly enforced border.

So good news perhaps for Syria, but potentially bad news for Europe and elsewhere.

Masrour Barzani, chancellor of security for the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, said: “The nature of the fight against Isis will change into an intelligence war. Defeating Isis militarily deprives them of territory and prevents them attracting and recruiting foreign fighters. This in turn discourages foreign fighters from staying in the so-called Islamic State and they will eventually try to escape or surrender.

“However, the threat foreign fighters can still pose upon returning to their countries should not be underestimated.”

That’s likely to be difficult to deal with.

Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The US government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed. Around 850 British fighters have joined Isis or other jihadi groups such al-Nusra Front and in some cases the war against the regime of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. It is believed around half of these fighters have returned to the UK and around 200 have died.

Maher said a military defeat of Isis would cripple the group’s recruitment ability. “Islamic State has projected a narrative of momentum and success,” he said. “Their slogan has been ‘remaining and expanding’, and a lot of young people bought into that. As the caliphate begins to crumble, that same appeal simply isn’t there any more. It’s potency and relevance has been diminished.

“What you will now see is the most hardened and committed members of the group retreat to the desert as Islamic State prepares for its next phase, as an aggressive insurgency in Syria and Iraq. However, a significant proportion of its recruits from Europe and the west will lose confidence in the group and defect or surrender.”

So they are losing a lot of soldiers and their support looks like crumbling, but it doesn’t take many to cause problems if they spread out around the world.