The Danger of Metastasis

The imminent expulsion of ISIS from its geographical strongholds in Syria and Iraq may signal not its excision but metastasis.  Michael Flynn, before his resignation, used to show "visitors a map predicting what will happen to the Islamic State after its stronghold in Mosul is captured. It shows menacing black arrows reaching west toward other, future battlefronts in Iraq, Syria and beyond." He feared metastasis.

After Raqqa, some jihadis will head back to Europe, which thinks it can absorb them. "A programme to rehabilitate former Isis fighters and other extremists with housing, employment, education and financial support is being trialled in Sweden. Local authorities in the city of Lund say the controversial measures aim to reintegrate returned jihadis into society and prevent them reverting to their former networks." Others are going back to Muslim majority countries where they are rather less welcome.

As of January, some 200 fighters are believed to have returned to Jordan, while Tunisian authorities announced in December that 800 fighters had returned to Tunisia from Libya, Iraq, and Syria.

Attacks have left citizens apprehensive over the fighters’ return. In December, Tunisians protested against the return of former Islamic State fighters, holding signs like "Close the doors to terrorism" in front of parliament. Here in Jordan, many know a son of a neighbor, colleague, or distant relative who has gone off to fight to Syria.

“It is better for them to die in Syria then to come back and ruin our homeland,” says Mohammed, a 45-year-old grocer in Amman, who says he knows of “several” families whose sons have travelled to Syria.

Still others are headed for African failed states where their skills, ruthlessness and ideology will make them the new Dogs of War. But as John E. McLaughlin of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University explained before Congress, history itself may be preparing the soil for ISIS to take root. It will encounter extraordinarily favorable conditions in the next decades as burgeoning non-Western populations flock to megacities in the Third World, if not to Europe, perfect for their style of fighting.

By 2035, the world will have grown to about 8.8 billion people. But less than 3 percent of this growth will occur in the developed world, many parts of which – Europe and Japan especially – are now aging societies. What some have called a 'pensioner bulge' will contrast with a youth bulge elsewhere, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America. ...

An underlying trend will be a continued growth in urbanization – now at more than 50 percent but projected to rise to two-thirds within the next couple decades, triggering ... more migration and possibly sectarian and ethnic tensions ... the wars of the last 15 years have produced a generation of terrorists trained to exploit these circumstances by virtue of their experience with urban warfare ...

This combines with ... a technology revolution that exceeds in speed and scope anything we’ve seen in modern history ... this technology revolution has brought a truly revolutionary and unprecedented devolution of asymmetric power to individuals and small groups through things like social media and easy access to knowledge.