ISIS is on the defense, there is no doubt about that anymore. After spreading and taking control over large territories both in Syria and Iraq (in a surprisingly easy way) since 2011, the last year has been one of defeat and loss of territory. Once again history shows us that it is difficult to threaten the entire world and not suffer from the consequences.

ISIS loses last contact with the world

The last two weeks have brought the intervention of a new actor in the game, one that held a key position in the fight against ISIS. Turkey has launched an offensive named operation “Euphrates shield by which for the first time they have attacked ISIS by ground with the main goal of kicking ISIS, and the Kurds, out of the territories they hold in the northern part of Syria along the border with Turkey.

The loss of this territory, far from being insignificant, is devastating news for ISIS as it was a “main port” from which ISIS was able to smuggle in their military equipment, sell oil to finance their operations, receive combatants, and send their own back to Turkey or Europe to organize terrorist attacks. The closing of this border by Turkey is therefore disastrous for ISIS, which will from now on be closed in and surrounded on all fronts.

Loss of key figures at head of ISIS

In 2014 the British secret service made a list in which they identified who were the key leaders in the Shura Council, which organizes the activity of ISIS. In that list they identified seven leaders. After last week, only one of them remains alive.

The killing of Abu Mohamed al Adnani in an airstrike means the death of one of the most influential men still left in ISIS, responsible for the propaganda and most of the attacks on European soil in the last years.

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These leaders are quickly replaced, but the feeling is that the constant loss of key figures is taking its toll on ISIS, that has to replace them with more unexperienced or unknown members, which breaks the discipline and authority by which the organization is ruled.

Difficulty of ruling a caliphate with constant airstrikes

ISIS controls a Caliphate in which their own activities have to be hidden. The fact that ISIS doesn’t count with a proper air force capable of protecting the airspace above their heads makes it difficult to hold the initiative in a war in which the vast territory in play makes movement an important aspect in the defense of their interests. For ISIS and their leaders, the battlefront is not the only war zone, as they are also vulnerable in the depth of their own territory.

This situation is an additional difficulty to the war efforts of ISIS. The fact that the leaders have to remain hidden and in secret locations, away from any possible airstrike, makes it a difficult task to organize a Caliphate that is being attacked on all fronts by enemies that although divided in their interests have an unanimous voice in defeating ISIS.

Change of strategy

Although the end of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is far from near, the times of conquest and expansion is past. Since 2015 ISIS has lost 40% of their territory in Iraq and 10% in Syria, with only small victories. The closing of the border with Turkey is a big blow; ISIS depended on that entry point to keep the Caliphate and the war efforts going.

As the knot coils tighter and tighter on ISIS, some are already considering what can be the aftermath of the conflict after a possible collapse of ISIS’s Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. For ISIS, the biggest options of victory lie in staying true to their convictions of “no concessions," trying to switch their efforts from holding on to their territories to building a network of radicalized terrorists ready to strike in other countries.

The Caliphate might collapse, but ISIS doesn’t want to disappear with it. However, it is hard to imagine how a terrorist group which names itself the Islamic State can survive without an actual State. That is the question ISIS is going to try to solve as the slipknot gets pulled tighter.