The legacy of the 'Islamic State'

The terrorist organization "Islamic State" has largely been defeated in a military sense. But its ideologies live on, for example, in children who grew up under its regime. Other challenges remain as well.

The terrorist "Islamic State" (IS) militia is mostly defeated in Syria and Iraq. According to the US military, the jihadis have pulled out of 98 percent of the areas they used to control in both countries. And Syrian, Iraqi and US forces plan to take the remaining 2 percent from them as well.

To reach this goal, the US military conducted 58 airstrikes in the week from December 29 to January 5 alone, according to the US Department of Defense. Those strikes involved fighter jets, helicopters, drones, rockets and heavy artillery.

 "[The physical caliphate] has been broken and fractured, but the work still continues," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said in a press briefing on January 11. "We are going to continue our operations because we ultimately have to ensure we have conditions on the ground that ISIS can never re-emerge," she added, using an alternate acronym for the terrorist group.

Some children of IS supporters in Iraq have been orphaned and left injured

But this is a tough goal to reach, especially for one reason: IS might be close to physical defeat in Iraq and Syria, but its ideology lives on. The organization is set up to endure long-term, the Pentagon states on its website. It secures its survival through a sort of "franchising system."

"Even though they failed as a caliphate, there are global manifestations of their brand that we see pop up," Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters in the press briefing.

Read more:

Russia: Syria now 'liberated' from 'Islamic State'

Iraq declares 'end of war' against 'Islamic State'

Fighting the IS image

That's why the focus will now be on combating the IS' image, officials said. And according to the Pentagon, the chances of winning that battle as well are pretty high.

"[IS'] global brand is fading with the defeat of the physical caliphate and as stories about the horror of life under ISIS are disseminated," officials state on the Defense Department's website.

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And yet, IS is far from being completely defeated. Instead, the jihadi organization is just returning to its roots in guerilla warfare, news outlet Al-Jazeera reports. Al-Jazeera says volunteers are still trying to join but that crossing the secured border from Turkey into Syria is now harder than it used to be.

Read more: 'Islamic State' seeks new foothold in Africa

Minds in ruins

In addition to the challenge posed by volunteers who come from abroad to join IS, security authorities in Syria and Iraq are facing another problem: the ideological and psychological legacy that the IS regime left in its former area of influence.

In most regions, IS was not in power for more than three years. But three years are a long time, particularly for young people. That's especially true for little children who had to witness the jihadis' violence, including brutal public punishments and executions, at a very early age.

Many children in Iraq, like this girl in Mosul, have known little but war

"Even if they weren't trained, they may have memories of living in a war zone," Daan Weggemans, a terrorism researcher at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University, told online magazine AI-Monitor.

A lost generation

The young people growing up during these years were robbed of an education. Many of them learnt how to use weapons instead of how to read and write.

"There might actually be a lost generation," Nadim Houry, the director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch, told Al-Jazeera.

Many adults have difficulties leaving the IS regime behind as well, Houry said. They are "just still trying to comprehend what happened."

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Focus on Europe | 23.11.2017

Children of IS in Belgium

The problem of an IS-produced "lost generation" is likely to reach Europe soon –  in the form of hundreds of children who were taken to Syria or Iraq by their parents or who were born there in the camps of IS fighters.

It's not clear yet how European states will deal with these children. Rules vary from country to country. Belgium, for example, plans to let children younger than 10 enter the country automatically. However, that only includes those who have taken a DNA test proving that they are actually children of Belgian IS fighters.

In December 2017, three French children of alleged IS fighters were returned to Paris by airplane after having been in the custody of Iraqi authorities.

In the Netherlands, children of IS fighters are generally allowed to return as well. But right now, the government is not planning on granting them Dutch citizenship. 

No concrete measures in Germany yet

Germany also wants to bring back children of German IS fighters. But experts are already warning that the return of older children, in particular, could pose risks.

Read more: Children of 'Islamic State' struggle to integrate in Germany

 "We see the danger that children were socialized by jihadis along Islamist lines and will return to Germany from these war zones having been indoctrinated," said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic security agency. "This could lead to the rise of a new jihadi generation here, too."

Torsten Voss, head of Hamburg's state Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said that this problem had to be solved before security authorities could start to act.

It's not clear yet what steps will be taken. Foreign policy experts of all parties are looking for solutions. But concrete measures can only be taken once Germany has a new government.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where did it come from?

The "Islamic State" (IS) — also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh — is an al-Qaida splinter group with a militant Sunni Islamist ideology. It emerged in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their goal is to create a worldwide "caliphate." It gained worldwide notoriety in 2014 after a blitzkrieg military campaign that resulted in the capture of Mosul.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where does it operate?

IS is believed to be operational in more than a dozen countries across the world. It controls territories in Iraq and Syria. However, the group has lost much of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria at the height of its expansion in 2014.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Who is fighting back?

The US leads an international coalition of more than 50 countries, including several Arab nations. Russia, Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, which all support the Syrian government, also fight IS. Regional forces such as the Kurdish peshmerga (above) and US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, fight IS on the ground. The Iraqi army and militia have pushed IS from large parts of the country.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

How does it fund itself?

One of IS' main sources of income has been oil and gas. At one point, it controlled an estimated one-third of Syria's oil production. However, US-led airstrikes deliberately targeted oil resources and the Syrian government as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters have retaken most oil wells. Other means of income include taxes, ransom, selling looted antiquities and extortion.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where does it carry out attacks?

IS has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks across the globe. The militant group has targeted capitals across the EU, including Berlin, Brussels and Paris. IS leaders have encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks, whereby individuals who support IS carry out terrorist acts without the direct involvement of the group.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

What other tactics does it use?

The group uses various tactics to expand its power. IS fighters have looted and destroyed historical artifacts in Syria and Iraq in an attempt at "cultural cleansing." The group has also enslaved thousands of women from religious minority groups, including Yazidis. IS also uses a sophisticated social network to distribute propaganda and recruit sympathizers.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

How has it impacted the region?

IS has further exacerbated the ongoing Syrian conflict. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled their homes, many traveling to Europe in pursuit of refuge. Although it has lost all of its strongholds, the militant group has left extraordinary destruction in its wake. Areas affected by the militant group's rule will likely take years to rebuild.