Aaron Y. Zelin is the Gloria and Ken Levy Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where his research focuses on Sunni Arab jihadi groups in North Africa and Syria as well as the trend of foreign fighting and online jihadism.
Devorah Margolin is the Blumenstein-Rosenbloom Fellow at The Washington Institute.
Articles & Testimony
Given the group’s multileveled efforts to exert local authority, it could resurge quickly into full territorial control if the coalition pulls back too soon.
Since losing its last semblance of control in Syria in March 2019, the Islamic State has spent the last four and a half years not only attempting to survive, but also working to create the conditions for returning to territorial control. While it is true that the organization’s insurgency has been degraded in recent years, only focusing on the Islamic State’s attack claims and propaganda misses an important trend happening at the local level: despite the best efforts of the global coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Islamic State has continued attempts to govern as shadow actors in eastern Syria. These efforts can be seen on four main axes: taxes, moral policing, administrative documents, and retaking of territory (albeit for brief periods of time). The Islamic State’s level of governance today is nowhere near where it was when it controlled territory the size of Britain from 2014-2017. Yet, these governance attempts illustrate that the group may be stronger than many assume, while also highlighting that the group’s interest in governing and controlling territory has not waned in recent years...