Now, the brutal group has mostly been driven out of their Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, and its Syrian capital of Raqqa is under siege.
Is ISIL close to being defeated?
“Not just yet; the campaign against ISIS is going very well … but it still controls lots of areas in Iraq and Syria,” says Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “ISIS is losing but nobody is winning against it … three years later we still don’t understand the ISIS ideology.”
“People are missing the point here …this is an ideological challenge, and that is more important than anything else,” says Iraqi parliament member Mowaffak al-Rubaie, also a former Iraqi national security adviser. “They’re on the run, but this is not the end of it.”
For Georgia State University professor and author of Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terrorism, Mia Bloom, ISIL’s increasing global visibility is more likely an attempt at projecting power owing to the group’s decline.
“There might be this inverse relationship between how poorly ISIS is doing on the ground, and the fact that they’re on the run, and the need for them to project power elsewhere,” says Bloom. “This is a way where they remain relevant and give the illusion that they are still powerful and still in control.”
For former Turkish counterterrorism police chief Ahmet Yayla, support for the group transcends territorial control.
“They have a solid ideology when it comes to reaching out to their supporters and the people who support them ideologically,” says Yayla, who is also a fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. “So, it doesn’t matter from their perspective whether they’re losing or not.”
In this UpFront special, an international panel of analysts examines and debates whether ISIL are on the decline, where they get their financial and ideological support from, and how to stop them.