The Straits Times says

Long tail of ISIS threat still holds sting

It was from Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the birth of a global caliphate three years ago. Aided partly by funds from the seizure of oil wells, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) enjoyed a period of rapid territorial influence across not only Iraq but next-door Syria as well. Its reach included a second bastion in Raqqa, a Syrian city on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. After initial confusion about the best way to tackle this lethal force, an operation to take back Mosul began last October. With air cover provided by a US-led coalition, a 30,000-strong Iraqi armed force, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shi'ite militias have now managed to drive ISIS out of Mosul.

The victory has more than ordinary significance because it deals a decisive blow to the image of ISIS as an unstoppable force, a profile that had helped draw more fighters to its cause. ISIS is now poised to also lose Raqqa, which will inflict another serious wound upon its twisted cause. Unlike the battle for Mosul, which was prolonged, this one could be a shorter expedition, partly because the US-backed Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) has pushed in about half more troops than deployed for Mosul. Were it not for the threat of Turkish intervention, which abhors the SDF because of its domination by Syrian Kurds, Raqqa would have been liberated by now.

Yet, it would be a pipe dream to believe that the battlefield successes mean the war against ISIS is meandering towards its end. The group still holds territory in the population centres of both Iraq and Syria. With its proven expertise in urban warfare - including platoons of fearsome, highly agile snipers - it should not be doubted that it will be some time before this boil is effectively lanced. In the manner of guerilla forces, it is to be expected that they will scatter under the pressure, to lie low for a while, so as to regroup subsequently. That means it will continue to spread its violent creed and recruit fresh groups of maturing youngsters to its cause from across the Islamic diaspora.

What then is the way ahead for nations? It does not need to be emphasised that the prime task is to consolidate the battlefield successes and maintain relentless military pressure on the group so it will remain weak underground. But overwhelming strength and resolve can only be one half of the battle plan. Indeed, it might be the swifter part. The longer-term goal is to control the narrative, restore the credibility of the state and reliability of the services it is meant to provide. The task includes ridding governments of the corruption and venality that had enfeebled their authority. It also means addressing the sectarian conflicts which are tearing apart nations and being exploited by extremists. How the sore heals matters just as much as arresting the infection that had threatened to poison the body politic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2017, with the headline 'Long tail of ISIS threat still holds sting'. Print Edition | Subscribe