When the Al Qaeda in Iraq (Al Qaeda fai Al ‘araq) erupted unto the battlefields of Syria and became ISIS few would have thought that the group would eventually become this powerful.
True to the fact ISIS before 2014 was a weak group operating mainly as a training and recruiting force for its offshoot Al Qaeda in Syria.
Al Qaeda in Syria (better known as Jabhat Al Nusra) was spending all its energy in the fight against the government of Bashar Al Assad and this provided ISIS with its fledgling ambitions of becoming a regional power. ISIS became powerful partially through its own early failures-turn-successes and by its skillful ability to convince large groups of armed men to join its cause.
The group was largely defeated by rebel forces including Al Qaeda in Syria by late 2013 but miraculously sprung to life just a few months after, seizing all of one province and the most of another in a blitz offensive that almost completely destroyed all militants opposing them.
This ‘comeback’ by ISIS was attributed largely to deals it managed to strike with tribal leaders in the Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces of Syria which saw a group that was on the verge of defeat transforming into a powerhouse within a matter of weeks. This ability to convince and gain unwavering allies(many of whom it later stabbed in the back) is the reason why ISIS has become such a force to be reckoned with, spreading to 6 countries and threatening to spread even further.
This diplomatic prowess brings us to the Caribbean where the group has been able to attract dozens of followers, many of whom are currently in Syria and Iraq fighting on behalf of the self styled caliphate. The Caribbean ISIS cadre is composed primarily of over 100 Trinis fighting in Syria. In November a video of Trinidadian men in Raqqa surfaced with them being interviewed in a location described as Raqqa, the group’s defacto capital. In the video the men praised the Islamic State group while one threatened the countries fighting against the radical Islamist group.
While ISIS’s threat to the Caribbean is still very low it will gradually increase as the “Caliphate” suffers massive defeats at the hand of the Russian backed Syrian Army, the US backed Kurds in Syria and Iraq and the Iraqi army backed by Iranian trained and supported shia militias.
The fact is that as ISIS’s military capabilities in Syria and Iraq decline they will likely launch more and more attacks overseas as they desperately try to prove themselves to their supporters. This increases the risk for the Caribbean as ISIS resort to attempts to radicalize locals to carry out attacks where possible. There is also a risk from those few who survive long enough to return to the Caribbean from ISIS controlled territory as the group crumbles, these will return with military experience that makes them a risk to their home countries in the Caribbean.
ISIS is expected to lose a significant portion of their territory in both Iraq and Syria this year. This means that while their bastions crumble they will focus on other countries and will encourage lone wolf attacks overseas. We are also looking at the rise of ISIS in Libya where the overthrow of Gaddafi lead to a non stop tribal war where radical Islamist groups benefited. ISIS also expanded to Afghanistan and Indonesia and has threatened to carry out attacks in Europe and beyond. This means that while the actual conventional military power of ISIS is declining the war against the group is far from over – it is entering into a new and totally different phase.