Islamic State 'likely to launch reprisal attacks in Europe after coalition air strikes'
More than 18 months of air strikes have begun to seriously weaken extremist movement, which could respond by lashing out with terrorist attacks, international coalition warns
Published 22/02/2016 | 19:47
Britain and the West must brace for reprisal terror attacks by Islamic State terrorists after a string of battlefield defeats for the militants in Iraq and Syria, military commanders fear.
More than 18 months of air strikes have begun to weaken the extremist movement, meaning it may lash out overseas to show it remains powerful, a coalition spokesman claimed.
The air campaign coupled with attempts to cut off funding to the group’s war machine means Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) leaders have had to slash wages for fighters, draft conscripts and recruit children.
Col Steve Warren, US Army spokesman for the coalition fighting Isil, said the flow of foreign jihadist fighters wanting to join the group’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria had slowed.
Isil is now "beginning to lose and we see them in a defensive crouch", he said in an upbeat assessment of the campaign to roll back Isil’s lightning advances across Syria and Iraq in 2014.
But he admitted the militants had so far been able to recruit new fighters as fast as they have been killed and warned the coalition is "not going to kill our way out" of the crisis.
Coalition commanders were now beginning “to see the fraying around the edges of this outfit as they begin to crack underneath this pressure", he said.
Intelligence assessments suggest the extremist movement, also know as Daesh, could respond with Paris-style terror attacks on the West.
Col Warren said as the coalition continues to "squeeze this enemy, as this enemy continues to feel that it’s back on its heels", it could hit back in desperation.
He said: "They are going to want to show the world that they are still viable and one of the ways that they could do that is through a high visibility attack outside of their so-called caliphate".
He said he had no intelligence about a specific threat, but the threat was “something we are aware of, this is something that through our various intelligence communities, we are discussing amongst nations”.
He went on: "We do not view a Paris attack or a San Bernardino attack as a sign of strength, as many have interpreted it. We view it as exactly the opposite.”
Col Warren warned Britons wanting to travel to join Isil that they would likely be killed.
He said: “You will either be killed by your so-called partners, who have executed each other with grotesque regularity, or you will be killed by ground forces in Syria or Iraq, who don’t want you there, or if you manage to survive either of those two things, you will be killed by coalition airpower.”
He said the drone campaign to kill Isil leaders and high-profile figures such as Mohammed Emwazi, the British Isil executioner known as Jihadi John, had sown paranoia within the movement’s ranks and led to a purge of suspected informers.
“When we killed Jihadi John, what we saw was an immediate frenzy of activity inside of Daesh, where they rounded up their own fighters, there was a spike in executions over the next several days and an adjustment to their communications.
“These strikes sow fear and paranoia inside the organisation, which is why they are so helpful.”
Disillusion and a realisation among would be jihadists that “"this caliphate isn't all unicorns and rainbows'', has hit recruitment he said. Isil is still able to replenish its ranks despite losing as many as 1,000 fighters each month, however, and the movement can still count on around 20,000 to 25,000 militants.
Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) security think-tank, said "the picture is more balanced” than the coalition’s positive assessment.
He said coalition gains had so far been “plucking the low-hanging fruit", but it would take years to defeat Isil and the jihadists could easily spring up elsewhere. Trying to retake the northern Iraq city of Mosul would be the hardest task yet.
He said: “That kind of serious, intense urban warfare is ultimately going to be the challenge we face in expelling Isis from Iraq and Syria."