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After Mosul: Australia’s strategy to counter the Islamic State

By Ash Collingburn

As the battle for Mosul unfolds in Iraq, Australian policymakers must carefully consider Australia’s long-term objectives in the Middle East. One critical question needs to be answered because it’s central to the process of making strategy. What is the Australian policy objective: to what end are our forces there? Once that question is answered, we can decide what comes next.

The world has watched the Islamic State (IS) evolve from a regional insurgency to a proto-state and global terrorist organisation that poses a significant threat to Australia’s national security. In the future, the group is likely to revert to insurgency operations to ensure its survival, but the global terrorist threat will remain.

This analysis aims to inform policymakers on the current and future threat posed by the IS and what should be done about it. First, the current problem is explained by analysing four critical enablers that allow IS to function as an insurgency, proto-state and terrorist organisation:

  • environmental factors that enable a safe haven
  • military capability, including conventional combat power
  • information operations that inspire, radicalise, recruit and expand a ‘virtual’ caliphate
  • economic power to sustain IS operations.

Next, the Mosul offensive is analysed in terms of current and future IS strategy, and what that means for Australia. The paper concludes with recommendations for a strategy to counter IS’s evolving threat.