The name Daesh, imbued with open derision, is a shortened form of the Arabic name of the terrorist organization “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (aka also ISIS). The word Daesh has become, in one year only, part of the run-of-the-mill vocabulary of daily life, the world over.
By hitting twice in downtown Paris and then in Brussels, this new offshoot of global jihad managed to capture everybody’s attention and put itself at the forefront of the international media scene.
This awe-inspiring and even terrifying ingression into the life and the language of today’s world brings to mind an almost similar jihadi organization that emerged a few years ago, namely AQIM, which is short for “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”, in Arabic. By managing to take seven employees of the French giant nuclear firm, Areva, hostage, in a daring operation in September 2010, AQIM became the main focus of people’s interest everywhere in the world for six months, overshadowing even its mother organization, al-Qaeda.
As was the case with AQIM, after holding Areva employees hostage, Daesh reached the climax of notoriety after the sanguinary attacks in Paris and Brussels. Meanwhile, Daesh is no different from AQIM, in that each of the two organizations is no more than a passing and over-estimated bubble. The fake caliphate set up by Daesh, no matter how awe-inspiring and terrifying, is just like any other “bubble”. It is transient and fleeting, by definition.
Who would remember or even care about AQIM today, five years after its breathtaking ascent, with its army of Sahara ‘princes’ that used to be on everybody’s mind in 2010-2011? On the other hand, once its Iraqi-Syrian bubble bursts, who would remember the horrific Daesh organization, with its hordes, often likened to a “jihadi Khmer Rouge” that worked as an incubator of a huge jihadi wave breaking from every direction, to join the organization and swell its ranks?
No doubt Daesh benefited, to a great extent, from the chaos that resulted from the upheavals of the Arab Spring. This enabled Daesh to dominate large swathes of fertile lands, so dissimilar to the large desert coastal strip that al-Qaeda occupied in the Islamic Maghreb. Daesh also laid its hands on a huge arsenal of military hardware, comprising hundreds of artillery pieces, tanks and even fighter aircraft, in addition to large sums of money that no other terrorist organization ever laid its hands on.
Ironically, the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, that gave Daesh its international big name was a discredit of its alleged caliphate. This is, certainly, reminiscent of the fatal setback suffered by AQIM in the wake of the astounding kidnap operation of Areva hostages, applauded by Osama bin Laden.
Actually, the huge fame accorded by world media to the Sahel battalions of AQIM, and the unexpected financial gains made by those terrorists from their Areva kidnap operation gave AQIM, an organization located in northern Algeria, a higher place in the hierarchy of al-Qaeda.
As a result, Sahara ‘princes’ of AQIM became more ambitious and planned to conquer larger territories. They attacked Bamako, the capital of Mali in January 2013, forcing France to respond by staging a military operation known as “Operation Serval” that aimed at uprooting the jihadi menace in the Sahel region.
Along the same lines, the attacks launched by Daesh on November 13, 2015, swelled its ranks by enabling the organization to recruit hundreds of new jihadists, who came from Europe and the Arab Maghreb. Those attacks also helped Daesh win the loyalty of elements of jihadi groups of various nationalities who chose, on their own, to declare themselves followers of the fake caliphate and take jihadism to new territories.
It did not take long for these spontaneous gatherings to develop an ambition among Daesh leaders to give their organization an international character. So, the self-styled Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi started ensconcing branches of his organization in remote areas. These areas, lacking geographic connection to the organization’s stronghold in Greater Syria, extend from Nigeria to Indonesia, via the Libyan powder keg, where Daesh declared its second emirate. Among these areas is the Caucasus, where Ajnad al-Kavkaz is trying to tickle the Achilles heel of the Russian giant.
The fast jihadi globalization of Daesh had its side effects. It created a generation of spontaneous jihadists who set up, on their own, an armed extension of the Daesh caliphate in the West. They represent an unprecedented form of low-cost terrorism inspired by the existential nihilism of the traditional ‘Holy War’ in the Jihadi Salafism.
This nihilist jihadi thought-nourished, most of the time, by socio-psychological motivations that have no direct connection to the religious fact-provided this Daesh legion-etrangere with a particular modus operandi that gave birth to the scary phenomenon of Uberisation of terrorism: using, for instance, less developed networks whose components are mostly of grassroots cells known as “lone wolves”. These leaderless units resort to unexpected and primitive techniques that make it more difficult for anti-terrorist authorities to anticipate and thwart their operations.
Having reached this point, the ‘low-cost terrorism’, that has no recognizable political purpose and that deserves, now more than ever, to be called “blind terrorism’, has been able to scare people and fill their hearts with unprecedented fear.
Because this kind of horror, known as ‘Primitive Terrorism’, characterized by improvisation and amateurishness, gets in the way of the day-to-day life of people, leaving a negative impact, it threatens the freedom and spontaneity that have always been a characteristic of the Western way of life.
Yet, the way Daesh managed to scare people by resorting to abominable and detestable techniques (like Uberisation of terrorism) has been a double-edged weapon; whereas the foreign arms of the group have increased tenfold their ability to terrorize people. This has, to a great extent, helped tighten the noose around its alleged caliphate.
No sooner had Daesh shown that it possessed an ever-increasing ability to spread terror and wage war on the West, than the Great regional and international powers turned their backs on their differences and their rivalries that almost wreaked havoc on the international system, with the eruption of the Syrian crisis. This created a wide international consensus on the need to join the battle against Daesh to contain its ability to shed blood and spread terror, before it was too late. On November 15, 2015, only two days after the Paris attacks, tens of French fighter aircraft raided, for the first time, Daesh strongholds in Raqqaa, the self-styled capital of the fake caliphate.
Since then, a coalition of armed forces from several Western and Arab states has been launching air attacks on Daesh hordes in Syria and Iraq. Previously, these attacks had been restricted to areas occupied by Daesh in Iraq.
On December 15, 2015 Saudi Arabia announced, with benediction from the United States and France, that a military alliance of 34 Muslim nations was ready to involve ground troops in the war against Daesh, in contradistinction to the stance taken by Western countries refusing to involve their ground troops in the fight to clear Syria and Iraq of the remnants of Dash and put an end to the myth of the Daesh fake caliphate.
On the other side, the Russian war effort, officially starting on September 30, 2015, hit Daesh in Syria even harder. This was a result of air raids carried out in close co-operation with ground troops from the Armed Forces of the Syrian Republic, supported by the Lebanese Hezbollah and the militias of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
A huge number of political and military experts predicted that the situation in Syria would be reversed as of the beginning of 2016, making Daesh bubble burst, bringing the alleged caliphate to an end.
Months of negativity and tactical calculations aiming at lowering oil prices encouraged the United States-led international coalition to finally target Daesh’s oil resources, the main financial asset of the fake caliphate. This was how operation “Tidal Wave II” got started in November 15, 2015, with a succession of airstrikes that specifically targeted 116 fuel trucks and other oil-oriented infrastructure in the Syrian al-Boukamal, near the border with Iraq.
By systematically targeting convoys of oil tankers transporting Daesh oil to neighboring Turkey, the international alliance substantially reduced the financial revenues of the fake caliphate, taking away a big share of its 2-million-dollars a day oil-revenues. Thus, Daesh was financially exhausted and territories under its control shrank steadily. The organization lost, successively, Kobani (January 27, 2015), Tekrit (March 31), the Sinjar Mountains (November 12), Al-Ramadi (December 28), Al-Shaddadi (February 19, 2016), Fallujah (June 26), and Dabeq (October 16). The Daesh conquest of Dabeq in June 2014 signaled the birth of its fake caliphate in Iraq.
Daesh suffered a series of defeats in Tal Afar (i) and Howeija (ii) in Iraq and in Deir Ezzor (iii) in Syria. Then the Iraqi army regained control of the border city of Qaim (iv). This operation had a highly symbolic value, as the conquest of Qaim had witnessed the beginning of the march that led to the declaration of the so-called Islamic State aiming at the elimination of the borders regarded, by many Arabs, as a legacy of the “Sykes-Picot” agreement.
The liberation of Raqqa from Daesh was the final episode in the dismemberment of Daesh, as this was its alleged capital. The implosion of the Daesh bubble looked inevitable by then. This was, of course, the end of a huge problem. Yet, it was a mixed blessing. To bring the so-called caliphate to an end is, certainly, an important step towards the restoration of peace and the containment of the dangers of civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
But, as far as globalized Jihad is concerned, the disintegration of Daesh will have a completely different aftermath. Like all jihadi organizations that participated in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan (1979-1989), the Daesh legion-etrangere, having lost the territories under its control, will be shifting from a phase of build-up to a phase of retreat.
The former phase witnessed the recruitment of tens of thousands of candidates for jihad, who came from the four corners of the world, starting from summer 2014, to join the so-called caliphate. Then, the Daesh “incubator” was dismantled, and instead of jihadists flocking to Iraq and Syria, there started the reverse immigration of those who survived the airstrikes in search of safe havens, away from policemen chasing them.
According to two ex-jihadists, the worst that may happen to the countries of origin of surviving terrorists in a post-Daesh era can be a replay of:
– The wave of “Afghani Arabs” marching over the Middle East and causing much bloodshed in a number of Arab countries, like Algeria, Egypt and Yemen. That happened when the first generation of jihadi veterans were forced to leave Afghanistan in the early 1990s, as the combat against the Soviets came to an end and a civil war among various groups of mujahedeen erupted.
– The wave of neo-jihadism that hit the Arab world and Europe after the strongholds of jihadists had been dismantled, following the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This was the time when the first generation of European Jjihadists known as ‘blue-eyed emirs’ emerged. Those jihadists carried out a long and bloody train of attacks: in Gerba (April 2002), in Casablanca (May 2003), in Madrid (March 2004) and in London (2005).
Observers hold that “small- dollar terrorism” has an incredible power to terrorize. Uberisation, as practiced by Daesh, made it possible for a few dozens of terrorists returning to Europe to launch bloody attacks like the ones that took place in Paris; Brussels; London, and Barcelona.
What may happen when thousands of terrorists of European origin return to their home countries, now that the Daesh “bubble” burst, is something that terrifies governments and organizations combating terrorism in Europe.
i- Thanks to social networks and anti-Islamist media, a new Arabic word was coined, that was “Daesh” which refers to sanguinary monsters.
ii- In attacks against the main office of Charlie Ebdo, on January 7, in the attack in Montrouge against policemen on the following day, in the taking of hostages, on January 9, at a kosher supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes, 17 people were killed. Meanwhile, the attacks of November 13, in Paris and Saint-Denis, targeting the Bataclan theatre, other coffee-houses and Stade de France, resulted in the death of 129. More than 352 others were wounded.
iii- On March 22, 2016, the attacks in Brussels left 32 people dead and 340 others injured. These were suicide attacks carried out by two terrorists that targeted Brussels-Zaventem airport and the Maalbeek metro station.
iv- See, AQMI, enquête sur les héritiers de Ben Laden au Maghreb et en Europe, Atmane Tazaghart, éditions Jean Picollec, Paris, 2011.
v- The arsenal captured by Daesh after the defeat of the Iraqi army in Mosul in June 2014.
vi- The loot collected by Daesh since the conquest of Mosul in Iraq and the declaration of its alleged Caliphate has been estimated at $7 billion.
vii- See, AQMI, enquête sur les héritiers de Ben Laden au Maghreb et en Europe, Atmane Tazaghart, éditions Jean Picollec, Paris, 2011.
viii- According to a report published by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, on February 5, 2016, 34 jihadist organizations, the world over, pledged allegiance to Daesh, since the declaration of its caliphate. Most prominent among these are Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia, Jundullah in Afghanistan, Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.
ix- Before the attacks of November 13, 2015, not a single country wanted to take part in airstrikes against Daesh in Syria, fearing that this would, in directly, make the Assad regime stronger. The United States was the only exception, carrying out limited airstrikes against jihadi bases near Raqqa, the self-styled capital of Daesh, specifically to neutralize the mysterious “Khorasan cell” that was said to be planning attacks against New York.
x- Under the auspices of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, this coalition included Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Togolese Republic, Tunisia, Djibouti, and Senegal. Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, the Gabonese Republic, Guinea, Palestine, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Libya, Republic of Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen.
xi- In the war now raging on in the middle East, and contrary to what Western powers are doing, the Russians are not seeking to avoid making Assad regime, one of their principal allies in the region, stronger.
xii- A name taken from the history of WWII, when airstrikes were carried out by Allied Forces against oil-fields captured by Nazi Germany in Rumania.
xiii- According to the American think-tank “IHS Conflict Monitor”, the monthly revenues of Daesh went down, from $80 million to $56 million in March 2016.
xiv- French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drien announced on April 21, 2016, that Daesh lost between 30 to 40 per cent of its territories since the beginning of 2015. On his part, American Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, on May 16, 2016, estimated the territorial losses of Daesh, since the beginning of 2015, at around 45 per cent of its territories in Iraq and 16 to 20 per cent of its territories in Syria.
xv- Liberated from Daesh on August 27, 2017.
xvi- Liberated from Daesh on October 5, 2017.
xvii- Liberated from Daesh on November 3, 2017.
xviii- Liberated from Daesh on November 3, 2017.
xix- Liberated from Daesh on October 17, 2017.
xx- “Afghan Arabs” refers to Arab veterans of jihad, who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.
xxi- See, “Ben Laden, la destruction programmée de l’Occident” de Roland Jacquard et Atmane Tazaghart, Jean Picollec Editeur, Paris, 2004.