As Mosul is finally freed in its entirety from the Islamic State (ISIS) and the offensive in Raqqa continues, the predictable question becomes: What’s next for the group? Without control of territory, its complex state administration project cannot function. This project was probably ISIS’s  biggest selling point in relation to its rivals in the global jihadist movement.

The end of ISIS as a functioning state project on the ground clearly does not herald the end of ISIS as an entity. In many areas long since cleared of ISIS control, the organization has continued to function as an effective insurgency with both small and large-scale attacks. Around the world, ISIS will remain a terrorist threat, as illustrated by events from Europe to the Philippines. The ISIS footprint on the internet is large and unlikely ever to be removed in its entirety. The group’s ideals will still appeal to some segments of society, whether out of disillusionment with the established order and a search for meaning in one’s life, or on account of identity crises, or all of these factors combined.

Yet these caveats do not indicate some sort of strategic brilliance on the part of ISIS, even in the losses it is facing. In a recent article, Charlie Winter asserts that losing Mosul “has long been part of [the Islamic State’s] global plan.” Based on this reading, ISIS has been planning for the loss of territory and decline of its statehood project since 2014.

But is that really the case? It is certainly true that ISIS messaging over the past year or so has tried to address the group’s contracting control of territory. Notable examples include the now-deceased spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani’s speech released in May 2016, which mocked the idea that the loss of Mosul, Raqqa, and the Libyan city of Sirte would mean the end of the caliphate. Instead, Adnani argued, the only real defeat would come with the end of the will to keep fighting. An editorial in the ISIS newsletter al-Naba’ in June 2016 reflected similar ideas to Adnani’s speech.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

(Lead image courtesy of DVIDs)