The Straits Times says

A wounded ISIS is a dangerous thing

Less than three months after ordering additional troops into Iraq to assist local forces in retaking the vital city of Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the United States is nearly doubling the presence of its troops in Syria to help Kurdish and Arab fighters preparing for a final assault on the town of Raqqa, considered the headquarters of the Islamic "Caliphate". The number of new troops going into Syria is not large: no more than 200 commandos and bomb specialists. However, the extra resources partly reflect US President Barack Obama's anxiety to try to finish the battle before he leaves office, since Mr Donald Trump may be tempted to seek new formulations involving Russia and the Syrian government.

While the world will wish America and its allies success, what is clear is that they have vastly underrated the challenge in the Middle East. A report earlier this month said that the US-led coalition had wiped out 50,000 ISIS fighters. If true, that would be double the estimate of ISIS fighters the Americans put out two years ago. While the fighters are unquestionably on the run, these figures reveal the scale of the task ahead. Such numbers of supporters could not have been attained without constant and continuing recruitment to the ISIS cause. This is a matter of worry for governments everywhere.

While no tears will be shed for the terrorist organisation, there is little doubt that a wounded ISIS is still a dangerous one. The truck that was intentionally driven into a crowd of Christmas shoppers in Berlin, killing 12, is an indication that the recoil from battle will be felt in civilian societies, which are less protected than militaries. The German authorities are looking for a Tunisian, after initially suspecting a Pakistani man. By some accounts, about 6,000 Tunisians have travelled to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Perhaps not coincidentally, a Tunisian hand was also present in the Nice truck attack in July.

Attacking cities and civilians has publicity value for ISIS. Every city is a target in this festive season, when holidaymakers are out in strength on the streets. In this regard, South-east Asia has much to worry about. About 1,000 fighters - drawn from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and even Singapore - are expected to return home, many with freshly-learnt skills in bomb-making. The rising presence of women radicals, some trained and mentally conditioned for suicide attacks, has added a dangerous new element. Pluralist societies like Indonesia were already under stress from radical Islamists. Now, the handling of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar shows the need for regional countries to ensure that state actions - or inaction - do not fuel a wider sense of injury in the Muslim community. South-east Asia is potentially on the cusp of something troubling and fated to live in dangerous times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'A wounded ISIS is a dangerous thing'. Print Edition | Subscribe