The Islamic State (ISIS) demonstrates yet again that terrorist groups like few things more than waging a propaganda war against governments which underrate their prowess. Two weeks ago, US secretary of state John Kerry told at a conference of 20 countries that had assembled in London to discuss ISIS that the tide was beginning to turn against the group. Mr Kerry indicated that the fight would “neither be short nor easy” but suggested that coalition airstrikes and Kurdish, Iraqi ground forces had “definitively” halted ISIS’ advance and, in some cases, reversed it. Anti-ISIS forces have reportedly recovered more than 700 square kilometres including the city of Kobane, recently. ISIS in turn — as if to demonstrate its clout and defiance of norms — executed two Japanese hostages and a Jordanian pilot who was pointedly dressed in an orange suit resembling those used by the US for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, placed in a cage, doused in fuel and set ablaze.
ISIS continues to surprise governments with its attempts at establishing State-like structures in areas it controls and is clearly keen on extending the range of its ‘caliphate’. It uses oil revenues to sustain itself and uses acts of brutality to recruit thousands of disgruntled radicals based in Europe. It has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces that have emerged owing to the Syrian civil war and the Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq. With the killing of the Jordanian pilot it is now cleverly opening another front with the Hashemite kingdom. Jordan is ruled by a pro-Western monarchy that wields power along with tribes who control the armed forces. The kingdom’s internal cohesion is, however, not a given. Palestinians comprise more than 60% of the country’s population and are politically disempowered. The country’s economy is struggling, unemployment levels are high and the Islamist influence is on the rise. ISIS is thus attempting to exacerbate faultlines in Jordanian society by staging a dramatic confrontation with King Abdullah.
Western nations are reconciled to the idea that the battle against ISIS will be a long one. Their leaders are averse to the idea of committing more troops and resources following the scarring experience of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Militaries insist on having a clear strategy before sending in soldiers. The fight against ISIS is also hamstrung by regional politics. Major powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Syria work at cross-purposes. The London conference on ISIS did not invite the Kurds owing to Iraqi and Turkish sentiments, even though Peshmerga fighters are at the forefront of fighting ISIS. The battle blunders on.