Western efforts may be working, but the struggle is not yet finished in Iraq and Syria
On November 16, a video emerged depicting another of a series of recordings issued by the Islamic State. Peter Kassig, the man mentioned as the next potential victim in the Islamic State’s last video production, along with eighteen Syrian pilots were offered up as sacrifices at the altar of the Islamic State.
Peter Kassig, a US veteran of the Iraq War and an aid worker converted to Islam in captivity, taking the name Abdul-Rahman. All featured victims had their heads severed with knives while face down. The video also concludes with a yet another, predictable threat of continual violence against the United States.
The British national, who has become known as “Jihadi John,” speaks in the video as well, stating: “This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country. Peter, who fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier under the American Army, doesn’t have much to say. His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf. You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars.”
French authorities also confirmed the presence of a twenty two year-old Muslim convert from northern France, Maxime Hauchard (who also goes by the name of Abou Abdallah al-Faransi), in the execution video. Hauchard, who hails from the French village of Bosc-Roger-en-Roumouis, allegedly converted to Islam at the age of seventeen. He also then attended Koranic school in Mauritania in 2012 before seeking out training with the Islamic State in 2013.
These executions are meant to serve as a mechanism to drain the United States, also, specifically, President Barack Obama and his administration, of their credibility. Realistically, there is not much that can be done about these types of hostage situations. Certainly, there are instances where negotiation takes place, however, it is clear that the Islamic State understands the art of heckling. President Obama, in a statement, unhappily confirmed Kassig’s execution, likening the perpetration to, “an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.”
Ed and Paula Kassig, parents of the victim, also issued a statement on the incident :“We are heartbroken to learn that our son, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering. Our heart also goes out to the families of the Syrians who lost their lives, along with our son.”
The significantly lower quality of the video indicates that things may be getting harder for the Islamic State. A constant allied air campaign could be yielding results. Many militant enclaves and routes of safe passage have been either completely annihilated or severely damaged and restricted. In addition, the struggle of a combined air campaign, and on the ground resistance, have provided much benefit to allied entities.
Former director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, commented on the stark contrast that this video seems to make when compared to earlier productions, “The most obvious difference is in the beheading itself — the previous videos all showed the beheading on camera. This one just shows the severed head itself. I don’t think this was the Islamic State’s choice. The likeliest possibility is that something went wrong when they were beheading him.”
Over the long term, it seems unlikely that the Islamic State will be able to continue such a wide scale of operations. It is also clear, however, that many things still depend on uncertain variables, some of which have yet to reveal themselves. Funding is one such problem. In the past, the Islamic State has found a source of illicit revenue in the constant supply of fuel obtained from captured resource centers.
The allied air mission has, interestingly enough, decided to target these installations. This type of action is very significant, as it represents a change of US political orientation toward the Islamic State. Where in the past it was seen simply as a terrorist organization occupying the owned capital and resources of another sovereign entity, now it is seen as a state with its own resources, which can be, in times of warfare, destroyed, in order to accomplish stated war goals.
A slightly disturbing element remains, however. This is the constant emergence of citizens of western countries who have, for one reason or another, become radicalized and who have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State. There are, inevitably, many of these individuals who will slip through the cracks, and who, at some point, will return to their home countries.
Recently, UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled increased measures, which work against these types of individuals, enabling the seizure of their passports. Furthermore, measures were proposed that would impose landing bans on airlines that refuse to comply with the UK no fly list. In a speech to Australia’s parliament, Cameron stated that:
“We will shortly be introducing our own new Counter-Terrorism Bill in the UK […] New powers for police at ports to seize passports, to stop suspects traveling and to stop British nationals returning to the UK unless they do so on our terms. New rules to prevent airlines that don’t comply with our no-fly lists or security screening measures from landing in the UK.”
It appears as if the destruction of the Islamic State may have to come, paradoxically, by recognizing, and thereby giving due legitimacy to, the threats that it poses. Perseverance in the struggle against radicalism of this sort has been identified by many in the western world as being of the utmost importance. Certainly, the United States and its allied powers are having some effect on the capability of this organization to operate, and this is precisely why a convincing argument can be made that efforts must not cease until peace is restored.
These efforts are not all rooted in violence. This must be plainly recognized. The Islamic State has sought to make itself a toxic enemy of the international community. The united support of moderates across the Middle East, of every ethnic and religious group, will be necessary to obtain victory, as the path forward does not lie in destruction, but in up-building; this is a notion to which the Islamic State is clearly opposed.