After 104,724 bomb strikes covering three and half years by the alliance forces, in December 2017 the Central Command of the United States announced: “ISIS is now reduced to a group of 1,000 terrorists with near total loss of territory.”
Ruling over a 100,000 sq. km swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria the size of the United Kingdom, ISIS commanded an army of 40,000 from 110 countries in its heyday. With its own geography and a promise to revive the glories of the medieval Islamic caliphate under an extreme Salafi brand of Islam and a carefully crafted social media campaign ISIS had become the most appealing terrorist group of the 21st century.
The fight is not over, don’t believe it when somebody says that ISIS is completely down.
A simple yet baffling question confronts us, four years after its founding. Is this the end for ISIS, or is it merely displaced, or thriving on the promise of a longer shelf life?
The global counter-strike against ISIS began almost immediately after its rise to infamy in early 2014 when Islamic fighters—educated and illiterate, wealthy and impoverished, young and old—from all parts of the world converged on Raqqa in search of the Grail. The US-led coalition of not less than 18 nations started Operation Inherent Resolve on October17, 2014, to neutralise the threat posed by ISIS. Its other objective was to dislodge Bashar al-Assad from the Syrian presidency. On December 15, 2017, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis announced that ISIS was broken but “The fight is not over, don’t believe it when somebody says that ISIS is completely down.”
The French forces, although part of the coalition, launched Operation Chammal against ISIS in 2014. Since the Paris massacres of November 2015 that killed 130 party-goers the French military augmented precision strikes against ISIS and helped local forces with reconnaissance flights, air strikes and training.
Iran has been helping the Iraqi Government against ISIS since June 2014. In September 2015, when Russia joined hands with Syria and Iraq to counter ISIS, Iran too signed up. The Russian-led coalition destroyed ISIS as well as anti-Assad forces supported by the US-led coalition. Russia withdrew most of its forces from Syria by the end of December 2017 citing success in achieving its objectives but refused to vacate entirely as ISIS is still lurking in the Levant. Iran is still fighting ISIS in Iraq. Saudi Arabia in December 2015 formed an alliance of 34 Muslim countries called the “Islamic Military Alliance” to fight Muslim extremism. Its fight against ISIS continues.
In January 2018, Turkey started Operation Olive Branch attacking the Kurdish enclave as a threat to Turkish sovereignty. The Kurds did some of the hardest fighting against ISIS, with the Peshmerga in the vanguard of the battles to liberate Mosul. Thus the fight against ISIS is a rainbow coalition of nations and groups spectacularly supercharged by contrasting ambitions and competitive manoeuvring.
Simple calculations of the present strength of ISIS make it all but certain that the battle will continue for many more years. ISIS will engage in low-cost, high impact attacks.
On December 23, 2017, in a special briefing Brett McGurk, US special presidential envoy for the “Global Coalition to Counter ISIS”, said the conflict in Iraq and Syria has “killed 400,000 people and displaced 11 million people” but the US-led coalition had “taken away about 98 per cent of their former caliphate”.
Nevertheless, the US admitted in December 2017, two months after the fall of Raqqa, that “ISIS is not totally finished in Syria” and the world “has a lot of work to do”. As of February 2018, the Syrian Democratic Front, the primary ground arsenal of coalition forces against ISIS militants, is gaining ground east of the Euphrates river while Syrian troops are expanding their writ on the other side.
Simple calculations of the present strength of ISIS make it all but certain that the battle against ISIS will continue for many more years. While battling nations will continue to display their military might, ISIS will engage in low-cost, high impact attacks. The bottom line is—ISIS is neither dead nor fully dislodged from its cradle in Syria and Iraq. The group has been forced to go underground or disperse to other parts of the world. The loss of territory in Iraq and Syria meant its fighters fled to friendly countries where they are now collaborating with local groups; spreading their ideology and trying to get a foothold to continue struggle for the cherished dream of a caliphate.
What shape Will ISIS take and where?
lthough weakened in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has reshaped its territorial writ and ideological reach in three continents covering Africa, Europe and Asia. The group is most prominent in Africa. One of the early targets of ISIS was Libya where it aligned with Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). The vacuum created by the death of strongman Muammar Gaddafi led to six years of civil war starting 2011. This allowed the ISIS branch in Libya to attract new recruits from other countries that had been largely immune to jihadist propaganda. This inflow of foreign fighters from Libya’s near neighbours forced African authorities and their Western allies to increase efforts to combat the fast-moving threat.
ISIL–Sinai Province since 2015 has staged attacks against the army. Egyptian intelligence believes the group has 1,000 to 1,500 members mainly in North Sinai.
Parts of the vast desert nation remain a safe sanctuary and new ground for the group’s ideology. It finances and arms Tunisian Salafist elements for the purpose of bringing religious extremist currents under the same banner to create an Islamic state in North Africa. Many recent terror attacks in Libya have a Tunisian footprint. Tunisian militants played an important role in the expansion of ISIS in Libya.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood dictates terms and Hamas has only a supporting role but ISIS has penetrated the scene. Since the emergence of al-Qaeda, especially after 2001, it has been a trend for small but extremely dangerous offshoots of extremist bodies like al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc. mushrooming in all parts of the world. Such fringe groups are more popular with local young recruits who feel the old parent body is too slow and less committed to immediate achievement of goals.
ISIS is such an offshoot of al-Qaeda and when Wilayat Sinai raised its head with explicit allegiance to ISIS ideology, the group became more popular than the traditional Hamas in Egypt. The Ansar Bait al-Maqdis or “Supporters of the Holy House” formed in 2011 shares some al-Qaeda ideology, but is not a formal affiliate. In November 2014, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis changed its name to ISIL–Sinai Province after it pledged allegiance to ISIS. Since 2015, it has staged a series of attacks against the army. It is thought to be aiming to take control of the Sinai Peninsula to turn it into an Islamist province run by ISIS. Egyptian intelligence believes the group has 1,000 to 1,500 members mainly in North Sinai.
In Algeria, Jund al-Khilafah and Katibat al-Ghouraba, offshoots of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, swore allegiance to ISIS in late 2014. While the Nigerian affiliates were wreaking havoc in the country, the terror group’s shape was taking giant size outside the Middle East. The defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria resulted in the immediate return of foreign fighters to Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Nigeria by merely crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Boko Haram of Nigeria swore allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. Since then the group has been divided. After the 2016 split, ISIS recognised Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, son of deceased Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf, as leader. The other group led by Abubakar Shekau, who also pledged allegiance to ISIS, has refused to accept al-Barnawi as leader and is operating independently. ISIS and Boko Haram operate on the Chad and Niger borders with impunity and usually target Nigerian forces.
Across the Red Sea, in November 2014, Yemeni militants pledged allegiance to ISIS and formed ISIS Wilayat. The group competes with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen and effected a split in the Yemeni branch of Ansar al-Sharia.
NATO estimates there are 1,500 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan—mostly disaffected Taliban from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In Southeast Europe, Chechnya, Dagestan and North Caucuses province ISIS has penetrated with a great degree of success. The most important expansion of ISIS is in the creation of Wilayat Khorasan, roughly covering Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a portion of the Central Asian kleptocracies.
ts expansion in this region is a curious case study because it has happened despite the absence of a strong leader. Secretive organisations and terrorist groups are run not by formal leaders or group heads but by committed cadres and regional leaders. The day-to-day running and lethality of a group is decided by them. Hafiz Saeed Khan, who established Wilayat Khorasan, was anointed as leader by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Over a decade he has switched allegiance from the Taliban to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to ISIS. He had connections with all segments of the Taliban and therefore is instrumental in establishing Wilayat Khorasan. But beyond this, the militants of the region themselves wanted to join ISIS and earn a living.
Inside Wilayat Khorasan militants develop their own ways to live as an ISIS soldier. They leave their earlier group for a variety of reasons—inclination towards a new ideology; to earn more money; to get prominent position; to oblige close friends or relatives; or to avoid difference between top commanders. When militants join ISIS, they bring their old skills. That is why, despite the deaths of numerous top leaders, the organisation is not dying. NATO estimates there are 1,500 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan—mostly disaffected Taliban from Pakistan and Afghanistan, fugitive Uzbek militants; and a few local Afghan residents.
In January 2016, US President Obama gave the military authority to strike at the Islamic State in Afghanistan and military action began immediately. Hafiz Saeed Khan was killed in a drone attack on July 26, 2016 leaving Wilayat Khorasan leaderless. As of February 2018, it’s witnessing fierce infighting between Aslam Farooqi, a former commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Moawiya Uzbekistan, an Uzbek commander. Farooqi supports rapprochement with the Taliban but other ISIS leaders opposing compromise are trying to revive and run ISIS in Afghanistan and Khorasan region.
In 2013, when Assad’s government was losing to ISIS, Iran supplied thousands of Shia Afghan refugees as shock troops in Syria. In an effort to save Assad’s government, Iran invested billions of dollars in Syria and prepared the Fatemiyoun Division comprised of Shia refugees from Afghanistan. The division, commissioned in 2014, had an estimated strength of 14,000. The recruitment of Hazara Afghan refugees is an action replay of what Pakistan did with Afghan refugees in the mid-1990s to form the Taliban. Since the fight in Syria is now ending, the struggle between Sunni ISIS militants and Iran-trained Shia militants will shift to Afghanistan.
The US is aware of this reshaping in Afghanistan. On April 13, 2017, the US military dropped the 11-tonne Massive Ordinance Air Blast, largest conventional bomb in its arsenal, striking a complex of tunnels and bunkers used by ISIS militants in Achin District of Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan. The bomb killed more than 90 ISIS militants. The number of ISIS militants in Afghanistan was estimated at 3,000 at its peak. It is 700 now. Despite the decline in numbers, the group orchestrated a series of attacks during January 2018.
Groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are in a position to host ISIS returnees. The IMU espouses an Islamic Caliphate from the Caspian Sea to Xinjiang. The Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan has aligned with ISIS. Lone wolf attackers from Kyrgyzstan were in the April 2017 St Petersburg attack and the June 2016 airport attack in Istanbul .
Western experts believe ISIS is no longer an attractive group but though its strength is reduced it will remain a potent force because Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive and ISIS central is intact. There is also growing concern over a merger of ISIS and parties in the Afghan civil war. The impact would spread to neighbouring countries in this region, particularly in Central Asia
n October 2016, at the Commonwealth of Independent States meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that ISIS fighters would pose a serious risk if they returned home. By October 2017, after the fall of Raqqa, the New York based Soufan Centre study found nearly 500 ISIS fighters had returned to the Central Asia region, third in size after the Middle East and Europe.
A section of the Russian bureaucracy suspects that the west is encouraging ISIS militants to populate former Soviet Russian space. In May 2017, before the fall of Raqqa, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that “unmarked helicopters [are] dropping ISIS fighters withdrawn from Syria and Iraq in Afghanistan to turn extremists into temporary allies and to stoke militancy in neighbouring states, especially Central Asia”.
With a high degree of poverty, inequality, corrupt and unpopular leaders and regressive political structures Central Asian countries are made-to-order for ISIS to spread its tentacles. Groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which offered support to ISIS in 2014 but formally pledged allegiance in August 2015, are in a position to host ISIS returnees and also to send recruits to Wilayat Khorasan. The IMU also espouses an Islamic Caliphate from the Caspian Sea to Xinjiang. In Kyrgyzstan, the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan has aligned with ISIS and is providing returnees with the ability to create unrest. Lone wolf attackers from Kyrgyzstan were involved in the April 2017 St Petersburg attack, the June 2016 Ataturk Airport attack in Istanbul and April 2013 Boston marathon bombing.
Tajikistan witnessed the high-profile defection of Gulmorod Khalimov, head of Tajik Special Forces, to ISIS in 2015. As the caliphate is fast becoming an underground outfit in Iraq and Syria, Central Asia in general and Tajikistan in particular could be the next launch pad.
n an August 2016 article, Fountain Ink argued that there was total government apathy about the strength and capacity of ISIS in India. Government laxness is surprising at a time when, as per the Pew Survey published on August 1, 2017, fear of an ISIS attack ranked top in global concerns, above climate change. India had failed even to count the number of people who had joined ISIS.
In March 2017, minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Rajya Sabha that “the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and States police have registered cases against 75 individuals to investigate their alleged links with ISIS”. The geographical spread of arrests shows ISIS is everywhere in India. The individuals arrested belonged to Kerala (21), Telangana (16), Karnataka (9), Maharashtra (8), Madhya Pradesh (6), Uttarakhand (4), Uttar Pradesh (3), Rajasthan (2), Tamil Nadu (4) and Jammu & Kashmir (1) and West Bengal (1).
The minister never provided the whole story. In October 2017, I was invited to a conference organised by the Turkish National Police at the resort city of Antalya. Senior intelligence officers present said interior ministry’s records showed that 37 Indian had been caught by Turkish security for their links with ISIS and deported to India. These individuals were among the 75 persons the government counted in the Rajya Sabha. Off the record, Indian security agencies admitted that 30 of the 75 individuals belonged to the overseas Indian community. The rest were from India.
Almost 500 Indians are either in Syria/Iraq or recruited by ISIS to work from India. From Kerala alone about 100 people are suspected to have joined ISIS over the years.
The NIA has information about very few individuals suspected to be in Syria and Iraq. But there is absolutely no clarity on the real numbers that sneaked into Syria and Iraq and took part in the ISIS battles. The argument for a higher number is strong because ISIS is using social media as its recruitment tool. The use of social media by Indian radicals may be far higher than what is known to government agencies. Ahir also told the Rajya Sabha that “as per reports of the security agencies, educated youth got attracted to ISIS ideology through social media”.
In October 2014, when ISIS was just starting to make a name for itself the General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. Subrata Saha, admitted to the media that “ISIS possessed great ability to attract a large number of volunteers from Kashmir”. Three years later in November 2017, when security forces engaged three militants on the outskirts of Srinagar, one of them, Mugees Ahmed Mir, killed in the encounter, was wearing an Islamic State T-shirt. ISIS immediately claimed ownership of the attack but S. P. Vaid, director-general of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, reiterated that there were “no footprints of ISIS in Kashmir”.
My interaction with Jiten Kumar Jain, who assists the government in tracking ISIS fighters on social media, confirmed that almost 500 Indians are either in Syria/Iraq or recruited by ISIS to work from India. On November 11, 2017, Kerala Police informed the Press Trust of India that from Kerala alone about 100 people are suspected to have joined ISIS over the years.
n October 17, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the aerial campaign of the US-led coalition forces, overran Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. In quick succession, ISIS changed its headquarters from Raqqa to Mayadin to Al-Qaim to Abu Kamal before vanishing into thin air in November. The denial of territory forced its fighters from different nationalities to vacate Syria and travel either to safer shores or their country of origin. In India, a couple of months after the fall of Raqqa, Ahir changed his earlier statement and on December 20, 2017, admitted to the presence of 103 ISIS cadres in India.
Cases filed by NIA, the premier agency for terrorist-related cases, indicates the involvement of groups rather than individuals in ISIS activities in India. The chargesheet shows close-knit groups of cadres from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala identified by NIA. This is a clear indication that indoctrination of cadres is not happening online alone and that recruiters meet cadres physically, albeit secretly.
According to a May 2016 document secretly obtained by NBC TV from an ISIS defector in Turkey, a US citizen of Indian origin Talmeezur Rehman was a prominent recruiter of the group. Rehman, known as Abu Salman al-Hindi, was raised in Kuwait and attended Collin College and the University of North Texas in the US in 2009-2014. Immediately after that, he left for Syria and became a prominent recruiter. A backroom boy, Rehman’s present fate is unknown but ISIS must be utilising his technical expertise as well as his Indian background to recruit Indians into ISIS.
On January 24 2018, the United States included British citizen of Indian origin Siddhartha Dhar, also known as Abu Rumaysah in the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In early 2014 he was arrested for involvement with the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun. Out on bail in September 2014, he along with his wife and three children left for Syria to join ISIS. His expertise was extensively used by ISIS to attract new followers. In May 2015, Dhar published a 40-page propaganda book from Raqqa titled A Brief Guide to Islamic State. Samiun Rahman, a terrorist of Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, was arrested from Delhi’s Vikas Marg on September 17, 2017. He is a British national of Bangladeshi origin, travelling through Bangladesh and India on a recruitment drive for his parent organisation. Before his arrest, Rahman had visited Bihar, Jharkhand and National Capital Region with the specific motive of recruiting cadres for Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.
here is a pattern in ISIS strategy for India and the response of Indian jihadists to its call. Analysis of the NIA chargesheets shows that Indian groups form up in response to ISIS’ call and members of local militant groups are asked to join hands with ISIS. In early February 2016, ISIS decided to include Kashmir in Wilayat Khorasan. In response local militants announced their support for ISIS and by 2017 formal organisations were ready to channel support from Kashmir. Two outfits popped up, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, led by former al-Qaeda militant Zakir Musa and Wilayat Kashmir, led by a masked man who publicly swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. These groups and individuals in turn tried to bring militants from organisations in the region, like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad into the ISIS fold.
A confidential communication to police headquarters in December 2017 reported the emergence of a Telegram channel, Al Qaraar, claiming to be the official Telegram channel of Islamic State Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). The channel has since circulated pro-ISIS messages to incite the youth of Kashmir. Al Qarrar documents like “Message from the land of Khilafah to the people of Kashmir”; “Apostasy of Syed Ali Shah Gheelani and others”; and “Realities of Jihad in Kashmir and Role of Pakistani Agencies”, circulated across the globe through the internet. They criticise both Pakistani agents and Kashmiri separatist leaders for their lack of commitment to Sharia and Islam. It is an indication of the way ISIS is spreading its twisted ideology.
India’s present political environment, tilted towards a majoritarian expression bulldozing every alternative voice, is one reason for the radicalisation of Muslims. Earlier governments faced similar problems.
Ansar-ut Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (AuT) was among the first militant groups to pledge allegiance to ISIS, in October 2014. NIA raids across India in January 2016 revealed that some two dozen men were united under the AuT banner to orchestrate attacks on behalf of ISIS. Their common handler was Shafi Armar, a Karnataka-born fugitive terrorist and ISIS’ chief recruiter in India. His elder brother Sultan Abdul Kadir Armar was killed in the ISIS battle for Kobane (northern Syria) in 2015.
In 2008, Shafi Armar had left India for Karachi, Pakistan and Nangarhar, Afghanistan, before landing in Raqqa in 2014. He successfully built a network of recruits in many parts of India including Mumbai, Rourkela and Delhi. NIA records show that on his instructions a group of eight men from Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Tumakuru, Mumbai and Aurangabad, met at Lucknow in November 2015 to form Junood-ul-Khilafa-Fil-Hind with the explicit motive of establishing a caliphate that owed allegiance to ISIS. The modus operandi of both was the same. A former associate of Indian Mujahideen, Shafi and his new organisation trawled for recruits among the Indian Mujahideen members spread across India.
ndia’s present political environment, heavily tilted towards a majoritarian parliamentarian expression bulldozing every alternative voice, is one of the reasons for the radicalisation of Indian Muslims. It is not, of course, a new phenomenon as earlier governments have faced similar problems. In the last two decades scores of terrorist attacks regularly shattered the peace in all parts of India. The Supreme Court in its Mumbai terror attacks judgment of August 29, 2012, stated “Indian Muslims may have a long list of grievances against the establishment. Some may be fanciful, some may be of their own making and some may be substantive”. Interrogation reports of apprehended terrorists and ISIS recruitment materials confirm that radicalised Indians are motivated by the global appeal of an Islamic caliphate.
Extensive research by scholars, including a few of my own research papers, on the root causes of terrorism rule out “poverty or joblessness as reasons behind terrorism/extremism”. An analysis of the profiles of ISIS fighters from across the globe shows the relatively wealthy and educated joining the group in Syria or orchestrating lone wolf attacks in their country. Indian recruits to ISIS include a police head constable, a postman, a scientist, a group of businessmen, and a group of jewellers among others. Indian Muslim radicals are motivated by the idea of a caliphate that, a map published in 2015 shows, covers the Middle East, North Africa, most of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Europe by 2020. ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq acted as a gravitational pull for radicalised Muslims to go and live under Sharia and fight for the caliphate.
ISIS has failed in its mission but a functional remnant, which includes trained fighters, terror infrastructure, groups in various countries that are considered the global tentacles of ISIS, and the idea are still alive.
ISIS propaganda materials “argue how the struggle in Kashmir is not guided by true Islam, but rather by Pakistani heretics”. The materials advocate attacks on the Shia, Barelvis, and Hindus to impose Sharia law. ISIS wants Kashmir to be a “free land ruled by Sharia of Allah” only. Court materials submitted by NIA show ISIS handlers discussing various methods with their Indian recruits on how “to attack and strike terror in the minds of kafir and destroy property belonging to non-Muslims”.
n July 10, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made a dramatic appearance in the ruined city of Mosul to tell the world how ISIS was a defeated ideology and a fugitive terrorist organisation. Since then ISIS lost territory with blinding rapidity. In October Raqqa, its headquarters, was overrun by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Following its military collapse, global analysts have speculated uninterruptedly about its future trajectory and shape. It is essential to understand that the radicals from more than 110 countries who gravitated to ISIS in the past four years were neither funded nor supported by it. Rather, the only material it offered was idea of an Islamic caliphate. In an impressive show of commitment, scores of individuals committed lone wolf attacks, formed groups across the world to channel support for ISIS and thousands travelled to Syria and Iraq to die for the cause.
ISIS has failed in its mission but a functional remnant, which includes trained fighters, terror infrastructure, groups in various countries that are considered the global tentacles of ISIS, and the idea are still alive. So what does the future hold? First, based on experience, analysts and practitioners believe the impact of ISIS will be short lived and like al-Qaeda it will only be a nuisance in some countries while in other places the group will try to cash in on existing political vacuum and instability. A second possibility is that all the returnees who are trained ISIS cadres may not sit quietly. Since the number of those who left Syria and Iraq is huge, there is every chance of a heightened global terrorism of epidemic proportion. It is a fear echoed in many public surveys including the Pew Surveys of 2017 and intelligence reports.
As for India, it is clearly not prepared to respond. Add to this a lack of debate about the subject and a near-total absence of informed literature despite the pan-India arrest of ISIS cadres. The only literature so far developed is by NIA, which counts the crime, explains the modus operandi and charges the terrorists. The presence of a large number of terrorist groups, jihadis and ISIS sympathisers is a real threat though it is hard to quantify. But it is worth remembering that ISIS is about setting up a caliphate, an idea that finds strong resonance among many Muslims here. Defeat may not stop its sympathisers in India from trying to implement the idea. Kashmiri radicalisation is just one part of this story.
Veteran field generals use the analogy of the balloon to describe the militant threat: If pressed at one point they appear at some other, like the air in a balloon. One indication of this is the increase in the number of cases filed by NIA since ISIS was driven out of Raqqa, four, involving dozens of cadres in various courts. The government has it work cut out in formulating comprehensive counter-measures to neutralise the challenge ISIS continues to pose.