The Department of Defense has cautioned against the emergence of a new breed of extremist militants as ISIS is planning to make a resurgence in 2023.
Warnings from military staff and national security insiders suggest that a return of the Islamic State may occur in 2023 as a combination of dangerous conditions have developed in the Middle East and Africa that could create an opportunity for the terror group to become a significant power. It would be an impressive restoration for a terrorist organization whose caliphate once occupied a large region of Iraq and Syria, which was conquered by a US-led counterterrorism campaign.
Specialists also warn that ISIS is most likely organizing a lethal revenge mission against the United States and its partners since several American strikes in Syria last year killed the group’s top leaders and officers. Although ISIS may not be as powerful as it was almost a decade ago, with thousands of fighters in its ranks, the group can still carry out lethal terrorist attacks.
At least four people have been killed and 12 others wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint in the #Egyptian Suez Canal city of #Ismailia. The ISIL or ISIS group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.#PoliticalUprising
Video Courtesy:@Abyedawi pic.twitter.com/1f7pDq271u
— Political Uprising (@Political_Up) January 1, 2023
Several US analysts have cautioned against “strategic neglect” of the potential threat of an Islamic State resurgence. The Islamic State was responsible for an attack in Egypt’s Ismailia that left four people dead and a bombing near Kabul that caused numerous injuries, according to local Afghan officials. The most high-profile attack was the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in August 2021 that killed 13 US Marines while the Biden administration withdrew from the country. This, and other attacks across the Middle East and Africa, emphasize the immediate risks still posed by ISIS. However, Pentagon personnel commented that there are more serious, long-term problems the US and its allies must face.
After retaking land from ISIS in Iraq and Syria in the second half of last decade, the US and its regional partners have captured tens of thousands of ISIS fighters, who are now in prison camps in both countries. In addition, the al-Hol camp in Syria and the ISIS detention sites in Iraq and Syria present both short and long-term troubles for the US and its allies. The most pressing concern is the potential of prison uprisings, such as the breakout at the Al-Hasakah facility in Syria in January 2022 that ended in the deaths of 400 ISIS fighters and over 100 members of the SDF. If there were large-scale uprisings and prison breakouts across the region, it would immediately put thousands of trained ISIS fighters back on the battlefield. Despite being declared “territorially defeated” by the Trump administration in 2019, the US war on the group has not ended.
In 2022, the US and its partners carried out more than 120 operations against ISIS in Syria, with another 191 in Iraq. These missions resulted in the deaths of almost 700 ISIS fighters and the detention of another 374. In addition, two of the group’s leaders were killed in 2022. The Islamic State desires retribution, and its existence in the Sahel and Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique demonstrates its capacity to re-establish itself.
Many expect the Mozambican government to be unable to fill the vacuum, and the US must step in before the ISIS insurgency spreads.
“The Mozambican government has … failed to fill the vacuum militarily or in terms of government services. To be a weak link, however, is better than to be no link at all,” Michael Rubin, a former Defense Department official and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote in a detailed analysis in September.
“If the United States and the international community do not implement a plan, financial or otherwise, to fill the vacuum, the Islamic State will rebound quickly,” he said in the analysis.
“Time is running out, and strategic neglect seems to be the order of the day. Ultimately, the United States and other countries will need to confront the Islamic State’s resurgence,” Rubin added. “Proaction is cheaper and more effective than reaction. The question is whether the outside world can organize itself to make the right choice.”