Could ISIL stage a comeback?
The past year has witnessed a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, which suffered a stunning series of defeats in its former strongholds.
From Mosul to Hawija in Iraq, and from Raqqa to al-Bab in Syria, ISIL has been driven from key territory, leaving the group's expansive vision of a caliphate in tatters. To date, more than 98 percent of the areas it previously held have been retaken, and more than seven million Syrians and Iraqis have been freed from the group's control, according to the US-led coalition battling ISIL.
Meanwhile, the ISIL fighters who evaded death or capture have "gone to ground" in rural areas between Iraq and Syria in an effort to regroup and replenish, experts note.
"The Islamic State of today organisationally looks profoundly different to the Islamic State of just a few years ago … No more does it control a contiguous territory, no more does it have control over urban centres, cities or towns," said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College London.
"Instead, it appears to have gone to ground, returned to its covert insurgent roots. This means that it's more like an archipelago of all the territories that together still form what it considers to be the Islamic State, what it still considers to be a caliphate," Winter told. "But it is no longer operating or able to operate in the same way that it was in 2014 or 2015 or 2016."