ISIS's global ambitions

The primary mission of ISIS in the Far Abroad is disruption of the current political order through terrorism and cyberattacks. As Ms. Gambhir notes in her ISIS intelligence summary: “ISIS-supportive hacking groups intensified cyberattacks throughout January 2015, striking a range of military, journalist, charitable, and government targets. . . . More than 19,000 cyberattacks targeted French websites in the week after the Charlie Hebdo shooting.”

Once focused on recruiting radical Islamists in Europe and elsewhere to join the fight in Iraq and Syria, ISIS now also encourages them to remain at home to recruit others and launch local attacks, such as those in France and Denmark. These attacks are intended to polarize Western societies and deter strikes on the ISIS core ruling stronghold in Iraq and Syria. ISIS believes this polarization will lay the groundwork for an all-out war with the West when the time comes.

In short, ISIS has adapted to the U.S.-led coalition campaign in Iraq and Syria by rapidly building a regional and global network that it can use to recruit and attack. In this way, it may well be able to sustain its global terrorist campaign if it loses terrain in Iraq and Syria—perhaps even if it is driven out of that region.