ISIS Affiliates In Southeast Asia Could Harbor The Group Once Raqqa And Mosul Falls

Iraqi security forces are set to declare victory in Mosul within hours as ISIS forces are all but forced out of the city, say local media. This comes after a large confrontation between the two forces, which saw the jihadi’s last bastion in the city fall.

Prior to the final push, security forces have cleared much of the surrounding area around Mosul with the help of Russian and U.S. airstrikes. After the majority of the civilians in the last extremist-held areas left, air strikes and artillery battered Mosul’s Old City before ground forces moved in.

According to the Daily Mail, security forces delivered a crushing victory to what was left of the city’s occupiers. Soldiers and police officers celebrate as they reached their designated objectives, dancing with rifles and machine guns while waving the new Iraqi flag.

The battle to liberate Mosul has been raging since October when a combined Kurdish and Iraqi force began their push to the city. A spokesperson from the Iraqi military said that the extremist defense lines were collapsing after months of intense fighting.

More than 70 percent of fighters left in the city were foreigners, according to Iraqi officers who reported a spike in suicide bombings during the final weeks of the Battle for Mosul. The group has been known to use foreign fighters for suicide attacks due to their lack of training compared to their fellow Arab fighters.

Iraq Special Forces take a break from the intense fighting.
ISIS forces in Mosul are crumbling to Iraqi forces after months of intense fighting. [Image by Felipe Dana/AP Images]

The jihadis’ refusal to surrender also resulted in the heavy casualties of the battle. According to General Abdel Ghani al-Assadi, a commander of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service, Old Mosul will be their graveyard.

After Mosul, the next target for the Arab-Kurdish coalition will be the group’s political capital of Raqqa in Syria. U.S.-backed forces around the ISIS stronghold expect the battle to retake the city will take months and could endanger the over 60,000 civilians who still live in the city.

There is no doubt that the group will eventually be stomped from the region under the might of the Western-backed Arab coalition. However, the global network they have laid since coming into power in 2014 could be of use as the caliphate crumbles.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the ability of the terrorist organization to put down roots through affiliates will be much more important as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria. The power vacuum in Libya has already fostered a splinter faction of the group which has terrorized neighboring Egypt for the majority of its existence.

However, it is in Southeast Asia that the group could find its new home. What happens in the region, particularly in the Philippines, will have ramifications all over the world.

The group has already taken a hold of a major city in the country and has been fighting government forces for over a month. So far, over 500 fighters have been engaged, most of them being local affiliates such as the Maute and Abu Sayyaf reinforced with foreign fighters from nearby countries along with Arabs and Chechens.

Armored vehicles of the Philippine military on their way to Marawi.
ISIS affiliates in Southeast Asia could harbor the group after the fall of Mosul and Raqqa. [Image by Bullit Marquez/AP Images]

The southern island of Mindanao has been a safe haven for extremist activities due to a lack of government presence. This is particularly true for the southernmost island of Basilan, which has long been a bastion of insurgent groups.

The country has played a role in several terrorist plots in the past, including the failed 1995 Bojinka plot which involved blowing up 11 airliners. The plot’s masterminds, Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also stayed in the capital Manila and used their connections in Malaysia, Pakistan, and the United States to plan the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and 9/11.

Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon has already been recognized by the ISIS top brass as the Emir of the Philippines. The group’s remote hideouts could serve as a safe haven for any surviving Islamic State leaders once Raqqa falls. Sympathizers from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority countries, could also aid the group as they plot the rise of a new caliphate.

The current conflict in Marawi has more riding on it than initially believed. Should the terrorists hold Marawi after the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, Southeast Asia could become embroiled in a new jihad, an eventuality that the region is not prepared for.

[Featured Image by Khalid Mohammed/AP Images]