The previous three weeks have all, for differing reasons, involved ISIS. We have looked at the advance towards the Syrian city of Raqqa, the battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, and the aftermath of the battle for Sirte in Libya.
ISIS can be understood as having three distinct aspects, with differing strengths and weaknesses, and so differing strategies. The first is the self-declared Islamic State caliphate, which takes in contiguous territory from Iraq and Syria with its capital at Raqqa. This is the core base, where ISIS holds and administers territory and is critical to ISIS’s claim to be a worldwide caliphate, one which claims authority over all Muslims. This has been rejected outright by governments and Muslim leaders worldwide. The second is the establishment of provinces, or wilayah’s, elsewhere and the acceptance of allegiances from other radical Islamist groups, thus allowing ISIS to spread their influence. The third is the far abroad, non-Muslim territories, where ISIS seeks to carry out terrorist attacks and polarise opinion. This has occurred mostly in Western Europe, either by existing ISIS members or people radicalized by ISIS ideology.
This week our focus is on the provinces and affiliates and we will look at what ISIS calls ‘the far abroad’ next week. The key difference between a province and an affiliate is in organisation: a province must have a unified leadership, accept ISIS’s version of Sharia law and have a plan to consolidate territory. Affiliated groups act independently and claim attacks on behalf of ISIS. As of May 2016 ISIS had formally recognised 35 provinces in nine countries, with a geographical reach across North Africa, the Middle-East, South Asia and South-East Asia, and covering the majority of the Muslim world. Some countries have more than one province: for example, there are nine in Syria, eight in Yemen, and three in Saudi Arabia. This is because a province is an area of control with a larger territorial region.
The provinces have not been as successful as the ISIS leadership have intended and they are becoming more important as ISIS loses territory in Syria and Iraq. There are only three provinces external to these countries that actually control territory, and these are in Libya, Egypt (the Sinai) and straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan (known as the Khorasan province). All three of these are struggling to survive as territories, although they are causing significant numbers of casualties and have had a major impact on the local populations. The most significant province is that in West Africa, after Boko Haram declared allegiance to ISIS in 2015, although it is difficult to ascertain how strong the relationship is between them. The group has suffered major reversals in fortune and a leadership split in 2016 puts their loyalty to ISIS in question. Other provinces in Algeria, the North Caucasus, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have failed to make any territorial gains. Generally, provinces and affiliates have been added when local radical Islamist groups declare themselves for ISIS. The affiliates, groups that have declared allegiance to ISIS, currently have little territorial control and include groups in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Somalia.
For more information regarding this week’s blog see:
Dr Carl Turner,