From the point of view of the Islamic State Group (ISIS or ISIL) the attacks in Paris last Friday night could be considered to be a great success. With three groups of three terrorists they managed to kill 130 people, wound nearly 400, and bring the whole of France to a standstill. They caught the attention of the world and the international media and they undoubtedly gained more adherents to their cause by showing their determination to defeat the decadent West. But, looked at more closely their success was not so clear.
First of all they sent three terrorists to blow themselves up in the National Stadium (Stadt National), where there was a friendly soccer match between the UK and France in the presence of Pres. Hollande. But they arrived late after all the crowds had already entered. As a consequence they were subjected to greater security scrutiny and in fact were not able to gain entrance. In this case, the security worked and so they blew themselves up uselessly outside, killing only one bystander apart from themselves. If they had gained entrance and had blown themselves up among the crowds, especially near the Presidential box, things could have been a lot worse. Also, although the Bataclan Concert Hall contained ca. 1,200 fans, the three terrorists there managed to kill 89 of them, it could have been a lot worse. Also, the three terrorists who drove around the streets shooting people were quite successful, killing ca. 40 people, but nevertheless their impact was more psychological than the actual numbers they killed. So this was not a mass casualty attack on the scale say of the Twin Towers attack of 2001 in NYC when 3,000 people were killed. Finally, the French forces’ operation in St. Denis on Weds killed two terrorists, including the organizer of the attacks, Abdulhamid Abaaoud, and captured 7 and prevented another planned attack, this time at a major shopping center in Paris.
Now let’s look at their strategy, taking the war to the “far” enemy, rather than fighting to build the Caliphate in the Arab hinterland of former Syria and Iraq. This was the major difference in policy and strategy between IS and Al Qaeda. Baghdadi, the so-called Caliph of IS, broke away from Al Qaeda primarily because he said they were focusing on fighting the US and not establishing a base for the Caliphate. So he proceeded to do just that, taking over parts of eastern Syria, making Raqqa his capital, and then boldly advancing into Iraq and with the collapse of the Iraqi Army being able to capture Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. But, that was the maximum extent of their expansion.
Since then they have been checked and have made no more advances, including the anticipated advance on Baghdad. Recently they have been defeated at Kobani and Sinjar by the Kurdish Pesh Merga and in central Syria near Aleppo by the Syrian Army. Also, the bombing campaign is taking a toll, with the air forces of the US allies and the Russians now taking a more active role after their civilian airliner was brought down in Sinai by an IS bomb. It is estimated that the IS are losing ca. 1,000 fighters a day in the ground and air campaign, although they are still receiving recruits from abroad at about the same rate. Nevertheless, without heavy weapons and no air defense they would appear to be militarily doomed. It is this factor that probably triggered their decision to return to the Al Qaeda strategy of coordinated attacks on western civilian targets.
The question is will they be able to mount further major attacks against France, the UK, or USA or will the strong reaction, so far of France and Russia, although not the USA under Pres. Obama, prevent them from doing so? The series of raids in France, the state of emergency and the increased vigilance will make it difficult for them in France. The UK and US will also be on the alert. As the Japanese General Yamamoto said after the great success of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941,”we have wakened a sleeping giant.” The Twin Towers attack by Al Qaeda, that was a great success for them, turned out to be their high point and their downfall, because they were not able to hold onto their territory in Afghanistan against the US assault and were not able to continue to carry out major coordinated attacks. Ultimately this will be the downfall of IS, but it may take a longer time. It has been reported that IS leaders are leaving Raqqa and moving into the countryside to avoid targeted aerial attacks. There they will be less effective and on the defensive and although they may still mount more attacks in the West, their days hopefully are numbered.