The Islamic State uses the airstrikes against it to confirm to followers that it stands alone in facing a Shia/West/Israel/"apostate Arab" government alliance.
How is Islamic State different from other insurgent groups?
The Islamic State is quite unusual in its level of organization and in the efficiency of its bureaucracy. It's the only insurgent group that is genuinely trying to build a state. They've shown that they have very solid intelligence collection capability. They've been able to regularly target the leaders of rival groups, and incorporate the fighters of these rival groups into their own structures. They see themselves as carrying a very global message that applies to Muslims everywhere, and their efficiency, level of organization, and bureaucracy, and financial management has been much better than any of the other groups that we've seen in Syria or Iraq.
How have the airstrikes changed the narrative of IS?
The Islamic State has been able to use the airstrikes to, in a way, confirm to its followers that it's facing an alliance of the Shia, the West, what it describes as the apostate Arab governments, and Israel. It's been able to present itself as the only group that genuinely facing all of these rivals at the same time. And it's been trying to use the air strikes as a means of actually boosting its own credibility and confirming the narrative that there's an on-going war against Sunni Islam. We think that they are going to utilize these airstrikes to try to push the west into a position where it openly provides air support to Syrian president Bashar al- Assad's forces to further push that narrative and to further convince Sunni groups that in fact it is the only group that is trying to defend them and that is capable of facing the rivals that are against them.
Q3 How long is the conflict likely to last?
This conflict looks like it could be open ended. The Islamic state has shown in the past that it can replace its leaders: it's shown in the past that even senior commanders can be replaced and the organization can move on. It regularly loses front line commanders and manages to replace those as well. The air campaign so far hasn't really stopped it from engaging in major offensives, even though it's sort of limited the locations where it can launch offensives. Given the ability of this kind of ideology to regularly spread and regenerate itself in different locations and given the vulnerability of Middle Eastern countries to this kind of ideology, because of the weakness of the states in these countries, we don't think that this kind of conflict is going to end anytime soon. It's much more likely that it will spread.
We're already seeing groups in Libya that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, we've seen that in Egypt, we've seen that in Algeria, and in Yemen. And it seems that they are winning the debate on social media with their more moderate rivals and are able to attract a growing number of followers.
Firas Abi Ali Senior Manager, Middle East & North Africa, IHS Country Risk