THE numerous victory songs and congratulatory messages flowing from various parts of the world following the Tuesday seizure of Raqqa, the ‘capital’ of the Islamic State, ISIS, Caliphate, drowned the victory songs from the Philippines. On that same day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that Marawi City in Southern Philippines seized last May by the pro-ISIS Maute militants, had been liberated.
The Filipino victory came at the cost of hundreds of civilian lives, loss of 160 soldiers, the claimed killing of 800 militants, the displacement of over 600,000 Filipinos, and the destruction of the town. To cap the military victory, the Maute leader Ipsilon Hapilon who crowned himself the Emir, and his fellow militant leader, Omar Maute were killed in the fighting.
However, many of the fighters including those from the Middle East, Indonesia and Malaysia are thought to still be at large. This includes the financier of the war, Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian thought to be holed up in the Philippines. The Marawi invasion and similar attacks in countries like Libya and Yemen, showed the far reach of ISIS and an indication that despite its defeat in Raqqa, it remains a potent force. In fact, it is likely that many of the foreign fighters who may return to their homes might constitute formidable forces in those countries.
The victory songs in Marawi might be too soon as the Maute is merely a breakaway faction of the larger, battle-tested Abu Sayyaf fundamentalist movement founded in 1991 by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. An Islamic scholar, Janjalani in the 1980s, fought alongside the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to oust the secular governments of Presidents Babrak Karmal and Mohammad Najibullah.
The victory in Raqqa followed the same pattern as those in Iraqi cities like Mosul; months of sustained air bombardments by the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF), established by the US Central Command which claimed thousands of civilian lives, mass execution of civilians by ISIS and the destruction of the city. Initial body count in the battle for Raqqa showed that victory came at the cost of 3,000 lives in the last four months and the body count is likely to rise with ISIS snipers taking shots at people and many parts mined by the retreating terrorists.
The revelations that the ISIS was established by the United States and its Middle East allies led by Saudi Arabia, have not been denied. One of the sources of this revelation is the former Director of the American Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt Gen Michael Flynn. He had publicly stated that ISIS was created by the United States to unite the majority Sunni Muslims against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and that the main training of ISIS fighters took place in Jordan in 2012.
ISIS was flushed out of Raqqa by a coalition of “Syrian Democratic Forces” assembled, trained and funded by the same countries that gave birth to it; there are other Frankenstein forces created in the same way, they include the Al Nustra Front (renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) remnants of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ and of course, al-Qaeda.
But ISIS remains a very potent force, its category 7 hurricane status might have waned, but its flash floods are everywhere; cutting off a snake’s head does not mean it has become harmless. It fangs are all over; the Middle East, Africa, Asia and of course Europe where it is capable of striking soft targets. Its threat three days ago to strike at the 2018 Russia Olympic Games, might not be an empty one; Africans caution that when a blind man threatens to throw a stone, do not wander how he is going to look for the stone; he might be standing on one.
For us in Africa, the rapid retreat of ISIS is a welcome development as it is hoped its capability to train and send fighters to places like Libya and Mali will be greatly diminished. That is hoping that with the Middle East becoming too hot for it, ISIS will not relocate its headquarters to our continent, especially Libya, the beloved African country rendered waste by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, which bombed the Ghadaffi government out of existence and replaced it with hopelessness, poverty and chaos.
ISIS teaches the big controlling countries two basic lessons. First, that they should not mobilise people based on religion as this has its own logic and independent dynamics. The West mobilised Muslim youths across the world to fight the Afghanistan government which was supported by the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; this was based on Cold war politics and strategies.
To achieve this, they painted the Afghan government as one of atheists and brainwashed Muslim youths that the civil war is a jihad, and that it is their duty to defend the faith in Afghanistan. In the process, they created the Mujahedeen. The latter led to the birth of Talibanism including its terror arm; the Pakistani Taliban, and the patriotic version in Afghanistan. Additionally, it led to the training and empowerment of youths like Osama Bin Ladin who created the al-Qaeda. Despite the dangers inherent in turning religion into politics, the same forces in order to overthrow the al-Assad administration in Syria, created the ISIS and al-Nustra Front which became Frankenstein monsters.
The second major lesson is that the Big Boys of the universe need to think things through rather than seek short term gains such as the defeat of al-Assad or the overthrow of Ghadaffi that has led to instability in large parts of the earth, the gigantic tidal flow of refugees, and the naked export of terrorism to Europe.
Despite the devastation by ISIS, the same coalition of Arab countries that joined the West to create it, is getting stronger. It has tried to strangulate Qatar, one of its own, but by far its greatest atrocities are its continued bombing of Yemen since March 2015 after Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh seized power.
The United Nations which is calling attention to the situation in that country said it is an avoidable human tragedy. It said as at January 2017 over 10,000 civilians had been sent to early graves mainly by the Saudi bombings with over three million internally displaced and nearly 19 million Yemenis, or 80 percent of the populace being in need of humanitarian aid. But who will call the coalition to order when the Yemenis are so poor and Saudi Arabia and its friends keep the West happy with their huge arms purchase. The greatest danger to world peace are the powerful and rich countries who assume that might is right.