The Islamic State group has a long history of expanding its power and preying on the weaknesses of its regional rivals, according to a new report that challenges the notion that the militant organization has only recently emerged as a threat.
Despite some assertions that the group only achieved prominence in June 2014 — about the time it began sweeping across Iraq in a violent offensive — the militants have steadily been gaining power in the region since 2010, the report by the West Point counterterrorism center concludes.
Over those four years, the report says the Islamic State patiently prepared operations that managed to dissolve some of Iraq’s security forces by targeting and demolishing the homes of its soldiers or, in some cases, assassinating troops.
Although the campaign to extinguish Iraqi security forces was executed across the country, it was particularly focused on the provinces of Mosul and Ninawa, per the report, which was first reported by Fox News. The campaign also included “escalating efforts to cut off Mosul’s highway communications,” the report said.
As the Islamic State seized additional power in Iraq between 2010 and 2014, the group was eventually able to gain control of Mosul streets and assert its authority at night, according to the report.
Warning signs that the Islamic State was becoming increasingly dangerous became evident after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “rebooted” the organization in 2010, the report notes. As a result, the Islamic State has been able to develop a highly motivated infantry force since 2012, enabling its members to launch a wave of 20 multicity synchronized car bomb attacks that lasted until the end of 2013, the report states.
The report also suggests that the four-year growth spurt could foreshadow a significant future threat.
Despite the warning signs, President Obama has compared the Islamic State — also known as ISIL — to a junior varsity sports team, implying that it does not have the ability to achieve its terror goals.
But history shows that the group has collectively drawn on “combat experiences of urban and mobile warfare in Syria” and has been moderately successful at creating fractures in Iraqi security forces, according to the report.
A complete analysis of the group’s most recent military accomplishments, however, “is difficult due to the lack of confirmed facts about much of what has transpired in Iraq,” according to the report. In the hectic months after the June 10 collapse of Iraqi security forces in Mosul, those facts have become increasingly murky, per the report.
To date, the Islamic State has managed to capture Mosul and, in the process, seize weaponry with which to arm its militants and liberate Iraqi prisoners, bringing some of them into its fold.
The military power that the group exerts has thus far been attained from “the weaknesses and unpreparedness of its enemies,” according to the report. There is some doubt, however, that the group would be able to hold on to that power in the face of a multipronged attack.
“Lengthy shaping of the battlefield, surprise and mobility made its recent successes possible, but all these factors are diminishing,” the report states. “As a defensive force, ISIL may struggle to hold terrain if it is attacked simultaneously at multiple points or if its auxiliary allies begin to defect.”