By Robert Norton
The situation in Iraq and Syria remains dynamic, to say the least, as coalition pressure continues to bear down on ISIL. ISIL-controlled territory has shrunk considerably over the last year. Mosul has not yet been fully cleared of ISIL fighters, but that will likely be completed in 2017. Raqqa, the ISIL capital and another significant military stronghold, remains under ISIL control, promising to be an even more protracted engagement than Mosul.
When Raqqa falls, as early as the summer of 2017 or more likely extending into 2018, the organized structure of ISIL will further unravel. The group will remain exceedingly dangerous for a time, however, and not be fully defeated as it evolves further toward being a movement like al Qaeda, from which it emerged. Labels matter little, however. What is or is not ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram—you name the group—is really immaterial on the ground, where corporate America and municipalities can and will encounter adversaries seeking to do harm.
What is happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen is socially and politically important, bearing close scrutiny. Aspiring fighters who would have gone and likely died in those places either remain in their own countries or return from the battlefield hardened and experienced. The far-off battle will increasingly become our problem here at home in 2017 and beyond.
The scale of these attacks will likely be similar to what we saw on Bastille Day in Nice, France (60 dead), or in Orlando (49 dead), although a 9-11-scale event (2,977 dead) can never be ruled out. Radical movements seeking to perpetrate sensational attacks will continue to pay attention to critical infrastructures. Will they have the capacity to destroy or even significantly damage our critical infrastructure, like food and water? No. They have neither the capacity nor the know-how to cause a regional, much less a national, critical infrastructure event. Nation-states are another matter, however.
The U.S. has significantly hardened critical infrastructures, making them more robust and therefore less likely targets, which is forcing adversaries to embrace low-tech options such as guns and knives, causing lower casualty counts. The U.S. and Europe also have significantly improved intelligence gathering and information- sharing capacities. This enables more effective identification of potential adversaries, before they are able to act.
Currently, there are open cases involving ISIL adherents in most of the 50 U.S. states. Europe likewise has many cases scattered across the continent, taxing police and court resources. This fight against a thousand ground fires likely will continue for a very long time, at a minimum decades. Changes, some perhaps dramatic, could occur in the coming months as a new U.S. administration institutes its own approach to defeating the enemy.
Even so, corporations must stay extremely vigilant as radical groups will continue to attract and inculcate sympathizers, who may—or will—try to insert themselves inside and and then damage corporate America and Europe.