The March 6 issue of The Nation has an interesting short article by University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole on progress toward obliterating ISIL (the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” also called ISIS and Daesh). Unfortunately the article doesn’t appear to be available on line.
At one time the terrorist group and quasi-army controlled a significant and expanding amount of territory in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. It declared itself a revived Islamic caliphate, which held romantic appeal to many young Muslims who sought to join the fight. But it has since lost almost all its territory and most of its popularity. Far fewer would-be fighters seek to join a failing cause that has been roundly condemned as immoral and anti-Islam.
The Obama administration successfully pulled together coalitions to fight ISIL with U.S. air support and in a few areas the assistance of U.S. ground troops, but with an effort to minimize risks to U.S. forces. For example, last year in Libya U.S. aircraft made massive air strikes (little reported in the news media) in support of ground forces that included government troops and a coalition of militias, many of them fundamentalist. The combined effort succeeded in driving ISIL out of its stronghold in Sirte, which it had held since early 2015.
Far to the east in Iraq the Islamic state had been in control of a considerable amount of territory and multiple important cities, but a U.S. led coalition of Iraqi government forces, various militias (some very fundamentalist and some allied with Iran), together with some U.S. ground troops, has since then succeeded in driving ISIL out of everything but the western part of Mosul, which it probably won’t hold much longer. ISIL is similarly in trouble in Syria, under attack by the central government as well as by U.S.-allied and independent groups.
Despite this, during the 2016 campaign Donal Trump claimed Obama’s approach to defeating ISIL had somehow been a failure, but since then the new administration, or at least the military, has wisely followed essentially the same successful strategy.