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5 Ways ISIS Is Evolving in the New Year

The Islamic State didn't have a great 2017. But even as their physical caliphate shriveled, ISIS was looking past their territorial loss. "While ISIS has been defeated as a conventional fighting force, we cannot forget their terrorist roots," Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon warned in December. "We know this enemy is as adaptive and savvy as it is cruel and evil."

Propaganda Goes Grassroots

Online publications in the early days of the caliphate detailed how the terror group was operating under a diffuse media strategy -- "by not having a website, no one can hack it and claim an online victory," stated the e-book "The Islamic State," which was released three years ago.

"Each province has its own responsibility in creating its own videos and social media accounts to share its successes," said the book. "By decentralising everything from the core leadership, even if a province fails online or offline, the leadership and overall Khilafah (Caliphate) leadership project is still safe and can grow elsewhere."

Several official and affiliated media groups sprang up during the Islamic State's heyday to disseminate propaganda, and those continuing to this day include al-Hayat, which releases many of ISIS' slickly produced videos, and Amaq, a news agency that releases short articles on ISIS activities as well as claims. There's also ISIS' official Nashir channel on Telegram. But some of ISIS' media operations have slacked: the group hasn't released a new issue of Rumiyah magazine since September, and their weekly al-Naba newsletter has dropped from 16 pages to 12.

There to pick up the slack has been the online army of ISIS loyalists who have bought leadership's excuses for losing Mosul and Raqqa and are willing to not only carry on but carry more of the propaganda burden. This was particularly evident over the holiday season, when lone supporters and ISIS-supporting media groups issued a variety of visual threats against the National Cathedral, the Vatican, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple in San Diego, Times Square and more, and also published attack tips and encouragement. (Everitt Jameson, accused of plotting to attack Pier 39 in San Francisco over Christmas, loved on Facebook one of these posters from ISIS supporters showing Santa overlooking Times Square with a box of dynamite at his side.)

So while it may look like fanboys creating and disseminating propaganda shows weakness in the PR effort at ISIS HQ, this trend falls in line with their early mantra that propaganda is best when it's grassroots -- created at the local level in a way that speaks to local would-be jihadists -- and is difficult to stop.

The Threat of ISIS Women

Women had a few roles under the caliphate: as brides of jihadis, with no purpose other than to give birth to "cubs" who would be raised as terrorists; as morality police tasked with torturing other women deemed to be un-Islamic in ISIS-occupied areas; or as slaves kidnapped by the terror group. The collapse of the caliphate has been pushing women toward a greater role in jihad.