What does the video mean for counterterrorism policy? First, it’s a reminder that the eradication of territorial control in Iraq and Syria doesn’t amount to the defeat of ISIS. Degrading the group’s networks globally will require a continued careful calibration of direct military force, intelligence sharing, arrests and prosecutions, training and equipping of partners, and other counterterrorism tools like efforts to thwart the radicalization process.
Second, Baghdadi’s reaffirmation of ISIS as a global community means that the Internet will remain a central battlespace for the group. This fact requires, in turn, continued and indeed accelerated efforts by tech companies to remove and—better still—prevent terrorist content from being uploaded and shared. Governments should also do more to share with those companies what they know about the latest terrorist online tactics, trends, and trajectories so as to empower the companies to police their own platforms more aggressively and more effectively.
Third, Baghdadi’s reemergence means that Americans and others must understand what’s ahead in ISIS’s evolution. Trump’s premature declaration of ISIS’s defeat invites precisely the wrong expectations—that there will be no more ISIS-linked attacks—and, in turn, precisely the wrong reactions to those attacks when they do occur: not reactions but overreactions, untethered to the actual needs of figuring out what went wrong and how to prevent more bloodshed.