ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror is a very well researched history combined with first-hand accounts of the rise ISIS, its relationships with other states and groups in the region and throughout the world, along with insights into its motives, actions, and agendas.
If you’re like me and not already particularly knowledgeable of Middle Eastern news and geography of the past 10+ years, you’ll probably have some of the same struggles I did to keep up with all the names and places. If you can allow for some ambiguity though, the second half and final third of the book in particular are very well worth it. If you don’t want the history, get the book just for the epilogue. The conclusions are harrowing.
Weiss concludes in part, that despite losing ground in places like Ramadi, ISIS is gaining ground elsewhere, even if it is not completely controlling the cities in a more traditional sense:
“ISIS continues to rule more or less uncontested in al-Bab, Minbij, Jarablous, Raqqa, southern Hasaka, Tal Afar, Qa’im, and outside the city center of Ramadi.” … “ISIS has compensated for its 10 percent territorial losses in Iraq by gaining 4 percent in Syria, though you wouldn’t know it to listen to US officials.”
“What’s amazing is how we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, in Iraq but also in the broader Middle East,” Ali Khedery told us. “I’ve seen senior American officials waste time tweeting about the number of air strikes. Who cares about these tactical developments? Sunnis are being radicalized at record proportions. A counterterrorism approach isn’t going to work with ISIS. We saw that in Iraq, and we’ll see it in Syria.”
It’s easy to think of ISIS as just a bunch of extreme Islamist fundamentalists, because on the surface that’s pretty accurate. The more nuanced view is that ISIS members arrive with diverse motives and backgrounds. Some were displaced Ba’athist Iraqi’s, others prison converts brought in by fellow charismatic Syrian inmates, and there are many who seem to have joined ISIS out of some type of expediency, hopelessness, or hopefulness. The resulting diversity has strengthened ISIS by bringing expert statesmen (of sorts), computer and weapons experts, PR and media manipulators, and not a few people with proper military backgrounds. Because of this diversity, ISIS often acts more as a state than a typical terrorist organization.
Despite this facade of legitimacy, ISIS is reprehensible in every way. It’s an organization led by heartless murderers, torturers, and rapists as they so brazenly exhibit in their own propaganda. They are well-organized manipulators and terrorists in every sense of the word. They should be stopped. How to do this is unclear, but pacifism isn’t an option. Understanding ISIS is not pleasant or rewarding but it is necessary, especially for those with political or military influence. This book should not be missed.