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The Barbarians Are At The Gate

In his recent second to last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama confidently declared that US led coalition air strikes against ISIS – or ISIL, as he prefers to name them – had been effective in retarding the progress of the terrorist group. He called on congress to formally authorize his use of force in the matter, reiterating the dauntless tenacity of the United States and its campaign against terrorism. He even said, unequivocally and in so many words, that the US was stopping the advance of ISIL.

But the terrorist organization that now occupies significant fractions of Syria and Iraq in what it calls a new caliphate may not be so easily defeated as the overconfident president seems to believe. Just the day before this speech was delivered, in a little reported incident in Iraq, ISIS forces successfully stormed the compound of Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, president of the Iraqi Awakening Council and and important ally in the American battle against al Qaeda in Iraq. Engaging and defeated security forces at Abu Risha’s installation, ISIS was able to break in and destroy various buildings, including several homes and even the mosque. Abu Risha called the attack a “message” to the United States from ISIS, that the US was not able to protect anyone and that the terrorists could reach anywhere they pleased. Even, indeed, the home of a close US ally.

It’s not surprising that ISIS has this power, because they are a formidable group. This is no ragtag band of guerilla warriors. ISIS is an advanced entity that fancies itself a new Islamic State, and has a sophisticated leadership that is able to quickly and efficiently react to threats. In response to the ongoing air strikes, ISIS has retreated and entrenched itself within densely populated cities, using civilians as human shields to protect its most vital infrastructure. It’s working; the United States has avoided striking those key areas, for fear of incurring levels of civilian casualties that would bring international condemnation. Instead, attacks have focused on ISIS supply routes out in the desert, the loss of which, while certainly irritating, is no mortal blow to the organization.

This is what must be understood before all else, that ISIS is a determined group with the will and the means to survive. The civilized world has its work cut out for it in the noble but difficult quest to eradicate them.

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