Ten years after the attacks in London on 7 July 2005 (7/7) and nearly fourteen years after those in New York on 11 September 2001 (9/11) which provoked the “war on terror”, there is no end in sight to this long conflict. Today, the proto-caliphate of Islamic State – the latest manifestation of the al-Qaida idea – has done more than just survive its first year. It is entrenched in Syria and Iraq, has a growing presence in Libya, and is linked to extreme groups in other countries, not least Afghanistan where the powerful Hezb-e-Islami militia led by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has pledged allegiance.
Islamic State is proving much more resilient than expected, and it is worth pausing at this time of anniversaries to ask why.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the new caliphate, Islamic State, at Friday prayers at the main mosque in Mosul on 4 July 2014. But the initial announcement had actually been made five days earlier, on 29 June, when it was picked up by Al-Jazeera and a few other media outlets.The declaration followed the rapid takeover of much of northwest Iraq by the new movement, culminating in the collapse of Iraqi army units and the seizure of Iraq’s second city, Mosul.
Within two months, the United States started airstrikes against Islamic State units in Iraq, and was later joined by many other states including Britain, France, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The US then extended its bombing to Syria, with a handful of coalition partners joining in, notably France, Canada and Jordan. At present, Britain is not yet involved in Syrian airstrikes, but the impact of the Sousse massacre and the secrecy surrounding Britain’s use of drones suggest that that might change (see “Britain’s information-light war“, 25 June 2015). The government is certainly trying to win support for an extension of its involvement.