After existing since 1999 in various forms, in 2013 the group we know today as ISIS began making territorial gains in Iraq and Syria at a rate faster than anyone could’ve expected. They were hardly al-Qaeda’s “JV team,” as former President Barack Obama naively put it.
Unlike terror groups before them, the group sought to establish a global Caliphate (with the end goal of eventually bringing on the apocalypse). At its peak, the group’s so-called Islamic State had 10 million people living under them and their strict rule.
As you can see from the above map, the group has lost the overwhelming majority of their territory since their peak in 2015. And that map doesn’t fully capture the true acceleration in the decline of the Islamic State, as a third of all territory reclaimed from ISIS since 2014 occurred in the first six months of the Trump presidency. And no, it wasn’t because Trump road the coattails of a foreign policy Obama already began – just the opposite, actually.
The group has suffered their most significant defeat to date in losing their former de-facto capitol city of Raqqa, Syria. But will this lead to the death of ISIS? Unfortunately, killing the ideology is a heck of a lot harder than killing its adherents. However, with the “Caliphate” aspect of the group lost, the group has certainly lost its main allure, and that’s best reflected in their (lack of) propaganda.
Once able to recruit massive numbers of foreign fighters with their slick propaganda (that practically looked like it was produced in Hollywood), it’s come to a screeching halt as their losses mount. According to the Daily Caller, the terror group only produced one-third the amount of propaganda it did two years earlier when it enjoyed safe havens in multiple cities across Iraq and Syria.
Battlefield and personnel losses have also led to the dormancy of several previously important ISIS media outlets that amplified the group’s message.
The group’s propaganda is now much more focused on ongoing warfare rather than depicting life in the caliphate as an Islamic “utopia.”
It is pretty amazing actually that a terror group is worried about “branding,” but that’s the world in which we live.
ISIS still, however, maintains thousands of militants in Iraq and Syria operating largely out of the middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi is thought by U.S. military commanders to be in hiding. The group also maintains active affiliates in Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines, and tribal alliances elsewhere which can carry out operations long after the defeat of its core group in Iraq and Syria.
The video below does an excellent job of explaining how effective the role of propaganda was in the formation at its peak:
While the group lives on, any recruitment efforts will be in the face of a series of devastating losses. If they’re to convince recruits that God is on their side, God certainly hasn’t been giving any signs of that thus far.