As the Islamic State loses their grip on declared caliphate territory, al-Qaeda has steadily been making moves to turn ISIS’ loss into their gain.
In some ways, they’re mirroring the tactics of ISIS as they lure new recruits from the West, and they’re most certainly still the old al-Qaeda at heart with the same focus on killing Americans. But in so many other ways they’re 10 steps ahead of the minions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, utilizing his group’s best practices while identifying and improving upon ISIS’ organizational and operational flaws.
Recent propaganda and recruitment activities indicate that al-Qaeda is salivating at the very near prospect of the caliphate going down. Sure, they’ve been ready with their “I told you so” barrage since al-Baghdadi first climbed the steps in Mosul and declared that he was top dog of the one true Islamic state. The al-Qaeda response at the time was essentially “don’t come crying to us when you crash and burn.” Now they’re moving from “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out” to “come on in, the water’s warm.”
Jihadists loyal to al-Baghdadi will still exist after he’s dead and gone, and after Raqqa and Mosul have returned to their new normal—rebuilding shattered neighborhoods, mourning the dead, reuniting families, getting back to school and work, restocking libraries, and wiping every last trace of ISIS from their cities. They’ll be looking over their shoulders for a long time, wary of drone IEDs from the sky and car bombs where their children play, remnants of an extremist army determined to get in their last licks. There will still be propaganda videos and magazines, especially from far-flung parts of the globe where ISIS is trying to establish a foothold. But ISIS will have to grudgingly transition into an organization more like al-Qaeda if they want to survive.