Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), is dead. He chose suicide over capture or death at the hands of the Delta operators and the Rangers. His death, however, doesn’t spell the end of the threat posed by the terrorist organization. ISIS might have lost huge swaths of land and be a caliphate no more – if it ever truly was – but it’s still dangerous. Its loyal minions have spread in the neighboring countries as well as in Europe, and perhaps even the States. And they are waiting for opportunities to strike. So this war isn’t over. Its overt and more visible aspects might have ended; but what is inarguably its most dangerous aspect is far from over.
The real threat of ISIS is philosophical. ISIS is an ideology more than an entity. The organization’s ability to rally disgruntled people around the world and make them commit terrorist attacks in their countries was and remains its most dangerous aspect. This realization begs the question of how you defeat an ideology?
People would argue for different remedies. For instance, establishing or enhancing democratic institutions or improving the socioeconomic level in an area or country where ISIS sympathizers might be residing (for example, France, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands). Such propositions, however, require multilateral action by countries whose interests are often competing, such as Turkey, Syria, Iran, and the U.S.
Another less geopolitically entangled option would be to continue unleashing the powers of America’s Psychological Operations (PSYOP) units. Ever since America committed its military to defeating ISIS back in 2014, PSYOP units from across the military have been playing a key role. Led by the Military Information Support Task Force – Central (MISTF-C), the information and perception war against ISIS has been aimed at weakening ISIS’ base of support by highlighting the corrupt nature of the organization’s leadership and the inherent faults of its ideology.
Thus far, MISTF-C personnel has utilized audio messages and leaflets.
Some of the messages have been trying to sow division between local and foreign ISIS fighters:
“I don’t know whether to laugh at you or pity you, Brother. You joined Daesh [another, less flattering title, for ISIS] to fight and be part of something. But look! The Foreign fighters get paid more than you; they get better food, better places to live, and the spoils of war. What do you get? Honestly, my friend, you have been cheated! Daesh would be nothing without you and look, you are barely treated better that they would treat a nonbeliever, and enemy prisoner. Is this what you signed up for?”
Whereas the leaflets have been geared toward weakening the foundations of ISIS leadership and ideology.
An example of a PSYOP leaflet. “The Invisible Sheikh [referring to al-Baghdadi] with the expansion of his false caliphate . . . will soon have none to help him achieve his illusions.” (USASOC).
Another example of a PSYOP leaflet. This one is trying to decrease the recruitment efforts of ISIS in Iraqi and Syrian populations “[ISIS] robs your boys of their childhood … and turns them into murderers.” (USASOC).
The methods of broadcasting the messages remain classified. It’s safe to assume, however, that the leaflets are being dropped by EC-130J Commando Solo aircraft.