It is true that ISIL has suffered recent reverses. This week, Iraqi forces retook the city of Fallujah, which ISIL had controlled since January 2014. Coalition forces are pushing ISIL back from the Turkish border in Syria. The U.S. government says that in the last year ISIL has lost 40% of the territory it controlled in Iraq and 10% to 20% in Syria. The Islamic State’s vision of a Levantine caliphate is being gradually whittled away.
However, the jihadists are not confined by lines on a map. Contemporary jihadist networks are complex, adaptive and opportunistic. When they feel pressure in one area they move to another. ISIL may be shrinking in Iraq and Syria, but it is growing in North Africa, principally in Libya, Tunisia and Sinai.
ISIL continues to demonstrate its lethal reach. Attacks directed or inspired by ISIL in the past nine months have been numerous and deadly. There was the Orlando massacre, the Brussels bombings in March, the San Bernardino shooting in December, the attacks in Paris last November, a Russian jet blown up over Egypt in October, and a number of other less publicized but still deadly attacks in Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
And we have heard Kerry’s notion that ISIL is desperately lashing out before. He said ISIL was losing after the March Brussels bombings and November 2015 Paris attacks. Maybe if he keeps repeating the argument, one day it will be true.