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Afghan Interpreters, the Peace Process, and the Future of Indigenous Support for US Combat Operations

As the United States prepares for its withdrawal from Afghanistan, discussions have continued about the fate of Afghan interpreters who played a vital role in US combat operations. These interpreters not only served as bridges to language barriers between soldiers and Afghan communities but also as cultural advisors to US soldiers. Their area knowledge and translations saved numerous US lives during the two-decade presence in Afghanistan.

The Current Challenge:

Because of insufficient awareness about interpreters, international media outlets have played a vital role in spreading the plight of those still in Afghanistan. After weeks of dialogue and advocacy, the first group of Afghan interpreters and their families arrived at a Virginia military base. This was to await the final process of their Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and escape likely retribution from the Taliban. The Department of Defense has planned additional emergency airlifts to evacuate approximately 3,000 more interpreters and their families. 

The success or failure to evacuate most Afghan interpreters has great strategic implications for the United States. Consequently, it will affect its future combat operations in the long term. The Biden administration must not betray these local heroes, as it will compromise the United States’ reputation as a force for good at a time of global consternation about democratic legitimacy. In understanding the historical role of Afghan interpreters, it becomes evident that their fears of abandonment have persisted for years and that preserving their trust will require policymakers to make difficult decisions.

A Rocky History:

The phrase “winning hearts and minds” underscores the importance of local support during the war. For many conflicts like the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, French operations in Vietnam, and even the American Revolution, lack of support for invading forces by the local populace foreshadowed inevitable failure. Indigenous support is so important in winning conflicts, that the US military has a unit dedicated to strengthening these partnerships, the US Army Green Berets. Local support from interpreters was crucial in the United States’ toppling of the Taliban. Local support also helped lay the foundation for a political solution to the conflict.

Although there is little data about the first interpreters who began working for US forces, it is highly likely that demand for their language abilities began and continued shortly after conventional troops began deploying to Afghanistan. Even before conventional forces, Green Beret and CIA officers relied heavily on translators to coordinate airstrikes, understand enemy maneuvers, and map partner forces to begin the initial offensive against the Taliban.

But interpreters and their families faced increased threats from Taliban retribution as coalition operations surged in 2007. The Obama administration’s 2014 initiative to withdraw the remaining US forces from Afghanistan foreshadowed the bureaucratic hurdles and anxieties encountered by interpreters during the drawdown. Many felt betrayed by the lengthy visa process, especially by unexplained rejections when they satisfied all requirements. Their families were constantly threatened by the Taliban, eventually forcing them to abandon wives and daughters during the lengthy visa process.

Their journeys to escape death were often unpredictable and expensive, relying on smugglers to ferry them to Iran, Greece, and Western Europe. Those who did not have funds to cover the entire journey were left in countries with nothing but false documents, eventually becoming homeless as countries failed to support them with refugee status or jobs. Those who suffered the most in escaping Afghanistan started to regret serving US troops, setting a dangerous precedent for the future of local cooperation in the age of major power competition. This is particularly concerning because local support will become more crucial as major powers like the US, China, and Russia rely on proxies in various countries to achieve their foreign policy goals.

The Need to Do More:

The newest arrival of the Afghan SIV applicants is a welcome development. However, this is insufficient because some reports indicate that the Defense Department would have to conduct 16 evacuation flights per day leading up to the August 31 deadline to account for all SIV applicants in Afghanistan. The US and Coalition governments are moving far too slow and risk sending a message to the world that they will not fulfill promises to local partners in conflict. Maintaining the reputation of democracies around the world has become increasingly important if the West hopes to combat a rising China.

If the US government fails to secure the safety of interpreters and leaves them marked for death by the Taliban, local allies in strategically important countries are less likely to work with American forces in the event of a conflict. Peace in these regions will be less attainable without this robust local support for US or allied forces.

It is not logistically possible to evacuate all SIV applicants, but the State and Defense Departments need to allocate more planes, diplomats, and locations to process at least 40-50% of SIV applications and ferry them from the Taliban retribution. They should also increase transparency regarding why applicants are denied. These actions would enhance American soft power and foster trust in the local population crucial to the success of a military campaign. Biden administration should look at evacuating interpreters as a strategic imperative, one that may play a driving factor in an era defined by state competition. Afghan lives and successful US strategy hang in the balance.

Qatar’s Mediation Challenges in the Afghan Peace Process

As NATO’s 20-year campaign in Afghanistan comes to an end and the Taliban escalate their nationwide offensive, Qatar remains the most privileged actor among the Persian Gulf States. This comes as a result of Qatar’s mediation efforts in listening to the different actors involved in the Afghan conflict and the considerable trust earned throughout the past few years.

In spite of Qatar’s long experience as a mediator in disputes and wars, the Gulf country has some challenges and responsibilities to face, in terms of regional and international stability and peace.

Background

Although Qatar did not recognize the Taliban between 1996 and 2001, it maintained “cordial” relations with the group after 9/11. The decision to open a political office hosting Taliban leaders in Doha in 2013, was a major step for the Afghan peace negotiations. Initially, the Afghan government expressed its willingness to provide protection for the Taliban leaders by opening a political office in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. This was largely based on the countries’ historic ties with Kabul. However, the Taliban expressed their preferences over Qatar, which was believed to be a more impartial and balanced power.

In September 2020, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government took place in Doha. In spite of this, an acute rise in civilian casualties followed. According to OHCHR data, October 2020 marked the highest monthly number of civilian casualties of the year, “with targeted killings of civilians […] included media workers, civil society activists, members of the judiciary and the government administration, as well as relatives of members of the security forces”.

On 17th and 18th of July 2021, peace talks were held in Doha between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, the Qatari facilitator stated that the two sides had only agreed to “work to prevent civilian casualties”. Despite this, both sides committed to expediting peace negotiations in Doha in the upcoming weeks.

Qatar challenges and potentiality in the peace process

Qatar is known as a power capable of exerting its regional and international influence through the mediation tool. Since 2008, the Gulf country has mediated in more than 10 international disputes. Among them, it is worth mentioning, the Qatari mediation between Fatah and Hamas in 2012, as well as the reconciliation and peace between the rival Tebu and Tuareg tribes in Libya in 2015.

Qatar could also mediate to counterbalance Iran and Saudi Arabia’s regional and ideological tensions and goals in Afghanistan. This could be achieved by highlighting the commitment and efforts to bring peace, reconstruction, and protection of human rights.

However, Qatar will also have to face difficulties. Qatar has lately been approached by NATO concerning the possible use of a base in Qatar, to secure and train the Afghan special forces, following the total withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan scheduled on September 11, 2021. If Qatar accepts NATO’s offer, it will become a strategic channel between Afghanistan and NATO countries. Nevertheless, this could result in the deterioration of Qatar’s ties with the Taliban, who may interpret the move as an attempt to support the Afghan government.

Conclusion

The Gulf country needs to reflect on NATO’s offer. Depending on the result, geopolitical consequences and changes will be inevitable in the Afghan peace process. However, it is relevant to take into consideration the regional and international commitment to empowering the Afghan population and securing sustainable and long-term peace.

Deradicalization and Combating Domestic Terrorism in the U.S

On January 6th, 2021, white supremacists and militias breached the Capitol, deploying the use of violence and force. In light of this, government officials and researchers are working to identify the factors contributing to domestic terrorism in America.

Domestic Radicalization

In 2020, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recorded 110 domestic extremist attacks. Of those, two-thirds were from the far-right and about a quarter from the far-left. The remainder were driven by religious or “ethnonationalism” causes.

In the technological world we live in, social media provides the main clues experts use to learn about the radicalization process and when, where, and why this violence occurs. In 2016, social media played a role in the radicalization processes of nearly 90% of the extremists. The internet gives experts access to study extremist viewpoints and conspiracy theories that are being circulated. This is often the most vulnerable of people.

Deradicalization

However, it is not enough for people to disengage, people need to be deradicalized. Deradicalization is the process of making an individual become less radical in their political or religious beliefs. Disengagement didn’t necessarily reduce their level of radicalization, meaning that these individuals have stopped enacting extremist crimes but may still hold radical views. Most psychological counterterrorism strategies have been developed for international use for Islamist extremists. Thus, experts worry that these interventions might not translate to U.S.-based groups. Evidence has shown that using former group members is one of the best ways to encourage individuals to leave extremist groups. They provide social support and can reflect on the challenges and fears associated with leaving.

A recent study by Gina Ligon, the Director of National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center at the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and her colleagues, found that one of the main reasons people disengage from extremist groups is for the same reason many people leave jobs or other organizations. They dislike their boss. They came to this conclusion after reviewing nearly 100 exit interviews with left-wing and right-wing domestic extremists. Ligon identified: “it wasn’t that they realized their beliefs were wrong, it was that they didn’t trust their leaders or were dissatisfied with the way the group was being managed.

Combating Domestic Terrorism

Towards the end of the Trump administration, DHS was provided with around $500,000 for a project at American University to study the “growing threat of violent white supremacist extremist disinformation.” The program is aimed at preventing the spread of disinformation through what researchers call “attitudinal inoculation.” Attitudinal inoculation aims to give people who may be vulnerable to disinformation the skills to recognize it and argue against it. This can be comparable to how a vaccine builds antibodies to a virus before the body encounters it.

However, during the Trump administration, DHS officials were directed to use the term “violence prevention,” instead of  “domestic terrorism.” Elizabeth Neumann, DHS’ Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention states:

“We did expand domestic terrorism prevention under Trump. But, when it came to questions of how we could change the domestic terrorism statute to charge people more easily, there were no adults at the White House who were willing to go there. Nor was anyone willing to define the threat.” 

The DHS under the Biden administration is very outspoken about naming and preventing domestic violent extremism. In response to the uptick, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expanding research into violent extremism in the United States. The Biden Administration is expanding grants to the DHS’ Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention. Similarly, the Homeland Security Department is looking to collaborate more closely with private social media companies. This includes Facebook and Twitter to spot indicators of potential violence.

However, there is a widespread belief within DHS that it should not be the federal government’s role to censor people or organizations, especially if the pressure is exerted by a Democratic administration on conservative media. The government will need to continue research and adapt to this goal of combating domestic terrorism in the United States. It has become very clear that there will not be a quick or easy solution to this growing issue.

 

A Bleak Picture for Afghanistan: A Weekly Update on Taliban Advances

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Source: Long War Journal (control areas as of Aug. 8) By Scott Reinhard

In recent weeks, the Taliban have made unprecedented gains that continue to threaten Afghanistan’s stability. This furthermore increases the likelihood that it will become a haven for international terrorists.

From strikes against prominent figures to military offensives that have resulted in the capture of three provincial capitals, the situation had become dire. So much so, that the British and American Embassies in Kabul have advised their citizens to evacuate immediately. This is in anticipation of further violence to come.

American and Afghan planes continue to bomb the Taliban in attempts to curbs its advances, with the Ministry of Defence claiming hundreds of fighters dead. Militia fighters, led by former mujahedeen commanders like Ismail Khan from Herat, have augmented government forces and pledged to fight the Taliban for their homeland. While the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, the Taliban continue to stall negotiations in Doha, while spokesman Suhail Shaheen sanctions the violence as the alternative to the current government’s rule.

The four major events of last week have serious implications for Afghanistan and foreshadow serious consequences if the Afghan government fails to counter the Taliban’s gains.

On August 3rd and 6th, the Taliban demonstrated their ability to penetrate deep into Kabul. This was shown with attacks on prominent government officials. Although Defense Minister, Bismillah Khan, escaped unharmed by the two vehicle-borne IEDs and subsequent gunfight that erupted late on August 3rd, eight people were killed and 20 injured in the battle. This is particularly concerning because the Sherpur neighborhood, where the minister resides, is home to other prominent government officials and is one of the most secure areas in Kabul.

As the Taliban make quick gains, these brazen attacks on officials are only likely to increase as the movement continues to gain momentum in the face of US airstrikes and pressure from Afghan soldiers. Unfortunately, the Taliban’s next attack succeeded, killing the top media and information officer in a roadside ambush in Kabul. Dawa Khan Menapal served as Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman and was lauded by US ambassador Ross Wilson as ”a friend and colleague whose career was focused on providing truthful information to all Afghans.”

Although covered little in comparison to these major attacks, the Taliban also killed the district governor in Kabul, Sayed Abad. These successful and failed assassinations highlight the Taliban’s lethal reach and disinterest in achieving a shared political settlement in Afghanistan. They serve not only to highlight the government’s inability to protects its leader,s but also to deter Afghan’s from supporting and participating in the political process. The military gains in Herat, Lashkar Gah, and Nimruz only serve to strengthen their resolve.

Beyond the asymmetric tactic used by the Taliban in Kabul and areas firmly held by the Afghan government, fighting in Helmand, Kandahar, and other provinces has intensified. In the last few days, the Taliban have captured several provincial capitals, Sheberghan, Laskar Gah, Zaranj, Kunduz, Sar-e-Pol, and Taloqan. Their victories at Taloqan are especially surprising because northern Afghanistan provided some of the most brutal resistance to their rule in the late 1990s. Subsequently, it became the launchpad of US operations shortly after 9/11.

Amid these offensives, US and Afghan planes continue to batter Taliban positions, killing hundreds of fighters and causing fires throughout various cities. In a notable strike, a B-52 bomber killed a group of over 200 Taliban fighters in  Sheberghan, Jowzan Province. Many have reported the bodies of women and children in these cities, whose fates may be connected to gross human rights violations by the Taliban. Some have also reported that the Taliban went door-to-door, asking for those who helped coalition forces and killing them. This was in direct contradiction to their commitments of protecting those they saw as traitors of Afghanistan and Islam. 

These extrajudicial killings of former interpreters, without due process and the targeting of civilians, greatly complicates the Taliban’s standing in the world. This furthermore reduces the possibility of peace in Afghanistan.

The international community should hold the Taliban accountable for these actions and deter the movement from similar violations through sanctions and other political measures. The recent victories by the movement appear to prove some intelligence assessments correct, mainly being that Afghanistan could fall in as little as six months to the Taliban.

However, Afghans should continue to fight, lobby for more international support, and work to bring essential services to people to deter them from joining the Taliban. The US should increase the number of evacuation flights and airstrikes in the country. Militia leaders should also mobilize and recruit willing Afghans to help government forces resist Taliban progress and preserve two decades of progress for future generations.

 

Afghan refugees entering Iran from Nimroz province of Afghanistan — a key smuggling province. Photo: social media

Afghan Youth Killed by Iranian Police Whilst Fleeing the Taliban

Afghan youth Hekmatullah Sharifi, a 19-year-old boy from Balucha Village – Badakhshan province of Afghanistan was tragically shot and killed by the Iranian patrol police at the Afghan-Iran border. Hekmat was occupied by 14 other young boys that feared recruitment of the Taliban, therefore, fled to Iran for protection from the oppression. However, with attacks intensifying in several districts and cities across Afghanistan, and territorial gains from the Taliban including Badakhshan province, Iranian patrol police became apprehensive of Hekmat’s identity as an illegal immigrant and chose to favor in fatal action due to unwanted passing across the border into Iran.

Despite Hekmat’s efforts to escape through days of smuggling via vehicles and on foot into Iran like thousands of other Afghans, his life was taken without a second thought as the relations between Iran and Afghanistan is deemed poor.

Afghan youth Hikmat - Afghan Youth Killed by Iranian Police Whilst Fleeing the Taliban

Hekmatullah Sharifi, a 19-year-old boy from Balucha Village – Badakhshan poses for a picture by the river next to his house in 2021. picture sent to Rise to Peace by his friends.

It is evident that the Taliban are frightening Afghan and Iran neighborhoods, but more critically, the Iranian police appear the most alarmed and uneased from the threat. With the Taliban’s rule of targeting families with three or more young boys to fight for the Islamist organization, Afghan teens are fleeing their hometowns to seek a safe haven in Iran but also work and provide for their families instead of the Taliban. This is causing difficulties for the Iranian police, especially at their borders whilst tensions are high and trust in people is low.

Officers are seemingly terrified and overwhelmed by the fluid situation in Afghan that is provoked by the Deobandi Islamist movement and military organization (Taliban), and as a result of this, young individuals are being brutally killed at the scene instead of formally detained. Evidence confirms that Hekmat died at 5:00 AM on 5/8/1400 after surgery in response to the attack at a 200-bed hospital in Nimroz province.

Taliban Recruitment of Children

In the current day as the Taliban’s attempt to take-over of Central Asia, the Taliban are described to be seeking out families who have 3 or more young boys and state that whilst located in Afghanistan, one of the boys has a responsibility to go fight with the Taliban organization. Necessarily forced recruitment through invasions of homes and detriment of livelihoods, to which researchers have only concluded as a possibility of the Taliban’s recruitment over the years.

Reports have described the Taliban to be recruiting minors since the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in early July, where they are described as child soldiers, human shields, and suicide bombers. It is blatant that Afghan communities are suffering since the American withdrawal. It has caused and will most likely continue to cause devastating outcomes for ethnic minorities similar to Hekmatullah for months to come. Young boys are aware of their fate set out with the Taliban and choose to risk their lives by fleeing than representing the Taliban and their version of Islam and creating peace.

Without the protection from foreign force troops on the ground, who are due to decrease drastically more until September 11th, 2021, there will always be a struggle to maintain livelihoods and critical facilitates in Central Asia.

How Can Afghanistan-Iran Authorities Do Better?

It is obvious that the governments of Afghanistan and Iran need to recognize a strategy to engage with the Taliban to discourage bloodshed, however, whilst this seems almost impossible in the current day, internal parties (i.e. patrol police) should prepare a better understanding of the hardened situations that differ in each region and allow an effective approach to questioning individuals that attempt to cross their borders. This has been the method for the Iranian patrol police towards Afghanistan people for decades when coming across desperate illegal immigrants.

Civilized and safe detainment of said individuals with a respect to human rights needs to be reinforced to better their relationship. Only then can innocent lives and low levels of youth militarization by the Taliban be preserved.


Chantelle Davis, Research Fellow at Rise to Peace

Homa Aryan M, Research Fellow at Rise to Peace

Support Services for Victims of Terror in the United States: What Is Available?

Introduction

In the aftermath of traumatic events, services which pledge support to victims of terror are imperative. These support systems offer hope of stability following crises. This may be in response to individuals who have lost family members, their source of income, been physically injured, or developed a mental illness as a result of the traumatic events.

In the US, it is necessary to understand what resources for victims are available, particularly given the very specific differences between federal and state jurisdictions. This added component of state governance in the US presents a complication when considering and understanding victim support services. How does an American citizen access services after being a victim of terrorism in their home state? What if it occurs out of state? What if it occurs while they are traveling internationally?

Types of Services Offered

Organizations have started to collect resources in easy-to-access formats. In the US, specific government agencies work together to support victims that require different types of care, whether the violence they experienced was international terrorism, domestic terrorism, or defined as a crime. For international information, the UN has collected these resources for victims through the Victims of Terrorism Support Portal. All UN countries are listed with the resources attached. This provides more clarity for individuals seeking aid.

Financial Compensation

The main type of support offered to victims is financial. Financial compensation is complicated because it is controlled on a state level, meaning that not all American citizens will obtain the same degree of support. However, it is typically standard that the compensation is used to help cover necessary costs following the violence. This may offer support to a household in the event of the loss of the main income source. The National Association of Crime Victims Compensation Boards (NACVCB) helps support state programs that provide funding to victims of crime. Organizations like NACVCB help make the process of receiving compensation easier by collecting the resources and information needed at a state-by-state level. In terms of compensation, “Crime victim compensation was the first type of organized victim assistance in the United States”.

However, crime is not always synonymous with terrorism. Rather, the title “crime” includes different scales of terrorism. This means that school shootings, which are a type of domestic terrorism, are included, rather than only large acts of clear out-of-state violence such as the devastation in the aftermath of 9/11.

The scale of a crisis has an immediate impact on the types of support options that become available. For example, there are nonprofits that specifically focus on the aftermath of certain acts of terror, such as 9/11. It continues to be important, however, that government agencies provide an overarching source of support towards victims to differing degrees of violence. This is because individuals may be impacted negatively even though an event was not categorized as a national crisis.

Mental Health Services

Post-traumatic health issues become heightened after witnessing violence, meaning that victims’ needs are multidimensional within the process of receiving compensation. The impact that witnessing and surviving acts of terror has on one’s mental health has proven to be detrimental. According to The National Center for PTSD, it is estimated “that 28 percent of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder.”  The mental health issues that follow these traumatic events can expand outside of PTSD and acute stress disorder, depending on the individual. So, providing individuals with the resources to receive help can be life-changing, following events of terror. Thus, proving mental health support services is imperative.

Conclusion

Moving forward, the US needs to continue to develop these programs and their resources in the most expansive and inclusive manner. On the state level, it is important that citizens are protected. Universal aid is necessary, even whilst traveling out of the state. Whilst there are resources, there is always room to improve and help educate the American people on where these systems of support are available. Work that is conducted by the NACVCB can act as an example for making resources readily available across the board.

 

ISIL Twitter Account

Can ISIL succeed in their political objective in 2021?

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ISIL on Gettr

 

On 1st June 2021 former Trump administration official Jason Miller launched “Gettr” a pro Trump, pro “free speech” alternative to Twitter, aimed at conservative Americans. However, in the space of a few weeks, the platform has become a hotbed of radical Islamic propaganda. Pro ISIL accounts have been flooding the platform with posts including video of beheading and other extremist content. This fits with recent intelligence which shows a renewed surge of ISIL activity on closed platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp, aimed at promoting their extremist agenda and targeting new recruits on social media. Chantelle Davis reports.

 

Despite losing, it’s billion-dollar operation, the loss of territorial grounds and a global pandemic, ISIL has become advanced in ‘undetectable’ social media recruitment techniques. However, their political objective remains the same – to achieve a transnational caliphate that has traits of old Islamic culture, but new ideologies based on their own political and governing laws; better known as ‘wilayat’. ISIL and its supporters are pursuing its political goals through propaganda campaigns targeting its hatred towards Western Governments and society. Unquestionably, ISIL is fixated on its strategy to establish a new political system within the territories it occupies, enforced by terror and threats those ISIL deem non-supporters or ‘kuffars’, but during the pandemic ISIL has strengthened its presence in online spaces  to a degree not witnessed before has. Researchers are concerned about the impact that this might bring to counter-terrorism, as these methods are far harder to detect (particularly on closed social networks), allowing recruitment and online radicalization to occur away from prying eyes. To examine the extent to which ISIL has the potential to sway the majority of jihadism, it is important to examine where the terrorist organization has stood and fallen over the years, with a close look at the online strategies they’ve utilized.

 

ISIL’ Territorial Fall

2015: Despite collapsing in 2014, ISIL became at its peak by 2015 with regards to territory and group following – offline and online. Reporters describe 2015 as the period for ISIL where they became a greater threat than Al-Qaeda.

 

2017: By 2017 ISIL had lost 95 per cent of their territory, but remained a threat in mainly Syria and Iraq. After two years of growth across online forums, ISIL became infamous by posting video content of beheadings and slaughtering. As ISIL’s geo political strength shrank, counter-terrorism experts became deeply concerned  as a wave of ISIL inspired stochastic terrorist attacks swept through Europe, carried out by young Muslims radicalized by ISIL’s effective online propaganda campaign.

2018: ISIL were described as knowledgeable of social media and made such a presence that invited numerous online affiliates who further represent the group and its cause.

 

2019: ISIL loses control of its final territory in Syria, which indicates that the terrorist group was defeated on the ground at least. ISIL became reliant on its online supporters and utilizes social media to its full extent in regard to recruitment and keeping its “brand” alive.

 

ISIL’ Modern Social Media Strategy

Research suggests that the terrorist organization ISIL most prominently use social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp. The primary focus on these apps has always been networking for ISIL, though, with unique features and tools each prepares a different strategy:

 

Twitter – Gain following and presence through short, meaningful content (tweets) that relates to its readers.

Facebook – Make use of the worldwide networking opportunities (messenger) and employ propaganda that appeals to every generation.

Telegram and WhatsApp – Exploit the encrypted messaging service of these apps and use them primarily for private discussions and its end goal: recruitment.

 

But what part does social media play in ISIL’s overall political objectives? Simons proposes that it is the group’s method of ‘political marketing’ to build upon their influence, credibility, and operational capabilities. It works to heighten ISIL’s relationships and appearance via propaganda, which sells the ‘dream’ and is appealing to vulnerable people. ISIL effectively utilizes multiple strategies on an array of platforms in a complex campaign to entice and manipulate individuals to join the path of jihad – recruitment – all to progress ISIL’s dream of a transnational caliphate.

 

COVID-19 Impact

Fortunately, ISIL has been disrupted in their plans for violence as mass gatherings and travellers were restricted due to the global pandemic that hit 2019. This has prevented the group and its supporters from advocating their beliefs and deadly actions, but  also stemmed the tide of new recruits from travelling to the Middle East to join ISIL camps. Although this is an obvious advantage for counter-terrorism, these agencies have also been negatively impacted by COVID-19 via budget cuts as Governments pivoted resources to fighting the pandemic. The likely result is that ISIL is well placed to take full advantage and may launch a resurgence as pandemic restrictions come to an end. It seems to be already in progress, as researchers fear that ISIL is re-surging in Syria emboldened by the renewed Taliban campaign in Afghanistan.

 

 

Will ISIL Rise Again in 2021?

There will always be an Islamic State Terrorist Organization that threatens Western society, whether it flourishes in a group dynamic, lone-wolf actors or modern online affiliates. Likewise, while technology enhances ISIL, it means they must adapt and change its operations to maintain its image and not fall behind in today’s reality. A social media strategy for recruitment and expanding its popularity is cheaper, quicker and offers a wide-spread audience – so why wouldn’t they follow? Counter-terrorism initiatives should recognize this and design improved technological methods of removing terrorist propaganda more efficiently (i.e. faster machine learning), but also to limit their presence on both open platforms and closed social networking apps. As ISIL’s geopolitical strength and geographical base collapsed , social media has become the inevitable solution for its chance at success.

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