A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard at Nabi Yunus shrine in eastern Mosul, Iraq, April 2017. 
Muhammad Ahmed / REUTERS

A little more than three years after the Islamic State (or ISIS) stormed onto the world stage by violently capturing large swaths of territory throughout Iraq and Syria, the campaign to counter the group has made significant progress. But predictions of the group’s ultimate demise are premature. What the world is witnessing is the transition, and in many ways degeneration, from an insurgent organization with a fixed headquarters to a clandestine terrorist network dispersed throughout the region and the globe.


Iraqi security forces have ejected ISIS fighters from key cities they once controlled, including Fallujah, Ramadi, Tal Afar, and most recently Mosul, which served as an important base of operations for the insurgents over the past three-and-a-half years. Across the border in Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces claim to have retaken nearly 80 percent of Raqqa, ISIS’ overall headquarters and the heart of its so-called caliphate. In recent weeks, Russian military and forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting to seize Deir Ezzor, a longtime ISIS stronghold in Syria. Its strategic location close to the Iraqi border has been used as a logistical hub to smuggle reinforcements to the insurgents.

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  • COLIN P. CLARKE is a political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism in The Hague
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