The much-anticipated U.S.-Iraqi push into ISIS-controlled Mosul has begun in earnest. Over 1,000 civilians have fled since Monday. According to a U.N. spokesman, around 1,200 civilians have escaped to a UN-operated refugee camp across the border in Syria. Meanwhile, combat operations have made progress, liberating nearly 20 villages on the road to the city center.

Once home to almost two million people in 2004, the population of Mosul has since plummeted, with upwards of a million people displaced after more than a decade of conflict, including ISIS’s violent occupation in the summer of 2014. To put that in perspective, what if half of Houston fled to Louisiana? The U.S.-backed coalition hopes to clear out ISIS from the fringes, and eventually the entirety of Mosul, ISIS’s last stronghold in Iraq.

However, there are complications, such as the civilians the Islamic State appears to have brought in to stymie the coalition operation. In addition, there are elaborate defenses, including a labyrinth of tunnels as well as the usual, but still effective, IEDs and VBIEDs that confront friendly forces.

As many can attest, there is nothing more dangerous than an irrational foe facing annihilation. Like a cornered rabid dog, they have nothing to lose. ISIS is well known for their brutality and their willingness to stoop to the lowest levels of human depravity to ensure the continuation of their tyrannical domination of the area. With this final stronghold in jeopardy, one can be sure they will not simply go quietly into the night. No doubt the 94,000-strong coalition, including over 4,000 Peshmerga soldiers, will have quite the fight on their hands. But considering ISIS is outnumbered nearly 20 to one (ISIS puts it closer to 13 to one), the numbers are simply not there, and a Daesh defeat in Mosul is clearly on the horizon.

Let’s not pop the champagne corks just yet, though. Once victory is proclaimed, exactly what is the plan to ensure ISIS or something even more inhuman and murderous doesn’t return? The world has seen what happens during such power vacuums. In fact, ISIS was birthed in such conditions after America’s withdrawal from Iraq. Is this just another round of Middle East Whack-a-Mole, and will another extremist group simply arise like some demonic phoenix from Daesh’s ashes?

This nation and the entire civilized world need a real plan to defeat this scourge before Western civilization as we know it crumbles like Rome’s fall to the barbarian hordes. ISIS has been at the forefront of the U.S. political debate, with both candidates assuring Americans and the world that they have the answer to defeat this spawn of our failed foreign policy. Both sides of the aisle tout their plan as superior, though it seems it has all been heard before. It really comes down to whether we are prepared to commit actual forces beyond airstrikes and SOCOM teams. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer, though if I did, perhaps I could throw my hat in the circus ring for commander-in-chief, as it seems everyone else has.

Hope remains that whoever wins next month may surround themselves with competent and forward-thinking advisors, but more importantly, that they actually listen and implement the ideas of these advisors. Not to be dramatic, but it does appear as though civilization as we know it depends on such action, perhaps not in the near term, but maybe in the years to come.

Sources:  CNN, NBC News, The New York Times, Kurdistan 24