One of the biggest troubles facing any attempt to take down a terrorist organization is that terrorist organizations aren’t large, monolithic entities. They don’t have borders. They don’t have a singular ideology. In fact, as has been the case with ISIS, there may not even be a general agreement on what to call themselves.
ISIS (or ISIL or the Islamic State) actually began as a faction of Sunni militants in Iraq who’d been disenfranchised by the Shia government. Their frustration turned violent, and they joined forces with al-Qaeda—and even helped free members of al-Qaeda from prison. However, relations between al-Qaeda and ISIS were strained (reportedly, ISIS refused orders to stop killing so many civilians) and, in February of 2014, the groups split.
Since then, ISIS’ aims have been, broadly, the absolute destruction of the current Iraqi government and the creation of a Sunni Islamic state, which would impose strict Sharia law.
It’s an ambitious aim—one most experts find unrealistic—but it’s an aim they’re taking seriously. They’ve already taken over parts of Syria and an area in Northern Iraq that’s roughly the size of Belgium and includes the country’s second largest city. The group funds itself selling oil and electricity and extorting local humanitarian workers. According to some estimates, ISIS could be pulling in as much as $2 million a day.
Their atrocities—including mass executions, forced conversion and unspeakable torture—has led to a global coalition of nations who, in the words of President Barack Obama, plan to “dismantle” and “destroy” ISIS. But as a decade of wars against terrorist organizations have shown, the real question is what comes next.