By Alexandra Gutowski and the ISW Research Team
ISIS will continue to demonstrate its legitimacy and vitality, despite major losses to its core landholdings. ISIS lost control of the Turkish border on September 4 and the town of Dabiq in Northern Syria on October 16. Dabiq holds narrative significance for the group, despite its small size. The Iraqi Security Forces also launched operations on October 17 to recapture Mosul, the largest remaining city under ISIS’s control. ISIS will aim to protract the battle for Mosul, despite its quick retreat from Dabiq. ISIS likely anticipates the loss of Mosul, but will prolong the battle in order to increase its opposition’s losses, much how it behaved in Ramadi and Fallujah. ISIS will transition into a guerilla phase in areas in which it loses control and will revive tactics it used historically, such as targeted VBIED and SVEST strikes, VBIED waves, and assassination campaigns. ISIS will coordinate attack campaigns in Iraq and Syria to divert or weaken its opponents. ISIS coordinated attacks in the vicinity of Latakia, Homs, Qamishli, Damascus, and Baghdad on September 6, indicating sustained ability to conduct command and control.
ISIS will increasingly compete for dominance among Sunni insurgents in Syria and Iraq as it loses control of terrain. ISIS may conduct attacks in new areas to demonstrate its continued legitimacy. For example, ISIS launched its first attack into Hama City on October 3. ISIS militants also detonated a successful SVEST attack targeting a meeting of opposition leaders in the vicinity of Inkhil, Daraa Province on September 22. Attacks also set conditions for a return to previously-held areas, such as al Rai and Salah ad Din, where ISIS has begun to conduct attacks with greater frequency in October 2016. ISIS may also attack neighboring states, such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan as it loses control of terrain. The expansion of ISIS into Western Syria, evident in an increasing number of attacks against Syrian opposition members, and ISIS’s presence in neighboring states are under-represented on this map.