Counter-Terrorism: Islamic State Fading And Dispersing


January 26, 2023: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is still active in adjacent portions of Syria and Iraq where the group was founded in 2014, but its affiliates in other parts of the world are the sources of more attacks and casualties. After its founding in 2014, ISIL violence and casualties grew until their peak in 2018, when there were 3,7oo attacks (80 percent in the Middle East) and then progressively fell with 2022 seeing 1,400 attacks with only 26 percent in the Middle East while most were elsewhere, most of (45 percent) them in Africa. The number of dead and wounded declined even more between 2018 and 2022.

Despite all this, the major American counter-terrorism effort is still in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq. While ISIL no longer controls any territory in these two nations, that area still contains the largest concentration of ISIL members and is thus is a “target rich” environment for counter-terror operations. This area is still where the senior ISIL officials live (and more frequently die) because of 3,400 American troops and even more from local organizations that are very good at finding, fighting and killing or capturing ISIL members. In 2022 that amounted to 1,100 ISL members killed or captured. Nearly 60 percent were killed because even when cornered, ISIL members tend to fight to the death.

While most of the ISIL losses were suffered by ISIL affiliates, none were as concentrated as the ISIL activity and losses in Syria and Iraq. There are over a dozen ISIL affiliates outside Syria-Iraq, most of them in Africa (from North Africa to Mozambique and South Africa). There are affiliates in Arabia, Israel (Palestinian territories), Afghanistan and South East Asia. In short, ISIL is becoming small but more dispersed and much less active.


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