How does the Islamic State (IS) view its own strategy on the ground in areas where it has lost formal territorial control? An editorial in issue 178 of the group's al-Naba' newsletter from late April provides an answer. The article, entitled "The path of the mujahideen towards victory and tamkin," basically argues that guerrilla tactics will inflict continual damage (nikaya) on the enemy, demoralizing them and weakening them. Meanwhile, amid this attrition (istinzaf), the IS fighters (the mujahideen) increase their own strength. Eventually, the stage is reached where the IS forces (as a regular or quasi-regular army) should be able to take on the enemy army in a decisive clash. By 'decisive', the group means an engagement in which the back of one side or the other will be broken, and victory for the mujahideen means achieving tamkin (enabling) in the land that allows for the rule of God's law to be implemented. The editorial cites with much pride the experience of the conquest of Mosul in 2014 as a valuable lesson for IS fighters that can be applied again and again.
Interestingly, the editorial argues that this time around the IS fighters have additional factors on their side: namely, they have a supposed unity of doctrine and creed, subject to one leadership. One possible way to interpret this claim is to see it is a reference to eliminating or marginalizing various 'moderate dissident' and 'extreme' trends that existed in the ranks when IS existed as a state project in Iraq and Syria. Most of the 'moderate dissident' figures, for example, have either been killed (e.g. Abu Ya'qub al-Maqdisi) or fled what remained of IS lands (e.g. Abu Muhammad al-Hashimi and Abu Eisa al-Masri). 'Extremists' have faced a similar fate.
Below is the editorial translated by me in full.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
The path of the mujahideen towards victory and tamkin
In the shade of their tribulation and their loss of some of their positions, the mujahideen do not abandon fighting their enemies of the disbelievers and apostates, but rather they strive to implement what God Almighty has obligated upon them from their jihad, and undertaking all that is required to implement tamkin for the Muslims in the land, preparing the way for its being governed by the Shari'a of God Almighty.
And in the times of their weakness and fewness of numbers, the mujahideen do not submit and refrain from jihad awaiting the formation of the large armed armies with the most powerful weapons that they may contend with their enemies, but rather they fight them with what God has granted them from numbers and weapons. They use the method of the mujahid guerrilla groups, which strike the enemy, and try to inflict continual damage on them, relying on weakening them, with time for efforts to be made to strengthen themselves, through uniting the efforts of the their members spread here and there, and directing it all correctly, towards realizing the defeat of the enemy in a part of the land or all of it, which prevents them from threatening the abode of Islam that the mujahideen will establish in what God Almighty has enabled them.
For the objective that the mujahid guerrilla groups strive for is to increase the damage on the enemy, and sow terror in the hearts of their soldiers and supporters, and make them lose complete control over the land, to the point that it becomes possible to contend with them in decisive battles at the hands of a regular army or quasi-regular for the mujahideen, which is formed by the mujahid guerrilla groups themselves in progressive stages of their jihad, or they prepare the land for it to come from another region in which it is present.
So the mujahid guerrilla groups will normally be few in number in the first stages of establishment, while also light on weapons and weakly connected and organized. And these are all qualities that prevent them from contending with the powerful regular armies in decisive battles, and we mean by decisive here whereby it is possible for the back of one of the two contending armies to be broken, so the entry of the mujahid guerrilla groups into direct confrontations with the powerful organized enemy armies may expose them to great losses that are of no benefit to them, while weakening their ability to realize their aims in exhausting the enemy and weakening them step by step until they bring it to the stage of balance with a gathering of the force of the monotheist mujahid guerrilla groups or the regular army for which the land is prepared for the decisive battle that will break the back of the enemy by God's permission.
For the mujahideen in Iraq did not seize the towns and realize tamkin in them in a day and night as some think, and they did not form the organized army of the Caliphate and enter into a war of open fronts with the mushrikeen immediately. Rather they continued in the war of exhausting attrition for many years, by which they managed- with the grace of God- to weaken the huge Rafidite army, and dismember its organizational structure, and destroy the morale of its exhausted soldiers, and threaten the paths of its connections and reinforcement, and make it lose true control over the deserts and countryside areas and then the towns. As such, the conditions became ripe for the mujahideen to enter into a decisive battle with the Rafidite army, so they began gathering their forces in safe zones, and set out from the desert putting their trust in their Lord and seeking the help of victory from the Exalted, to launch crippling expeditions to break the joints of force of their enemies, resulting in the seizure of the towns to finish them off, as the Rafidites and their brothers of the Sahwa forces were in the weakest state and not strong enough to fight, and not able to remain steadfast before the attacks of the men. So the rapid collapse of an army that numbered tens of thousands of soldiers and possessing the most modern and powerful weapons before several hundred of the monotheists armed with certainty of victory, was stronger than the weapons that were in their hands that whose force could scarcely be mentioned in comparison with the force of their enemies.
And the guerrilla groups of the soldiers of the Caliphate spread in the different countries are capable by God's permission of repeating the lesson of the conquest of Mosul over and over again, and applying that blessed experiment in every land, to the point of realizing tamkin in them for the Muslims, especially as they possess today some of the most important factors of success- by the permission of God Almighty- and they are unity of doctrine and manhaj, for all of them fight for the same objective and aim. They are also subject to one leadership, which guarantees- by the permission of God Almighty- the unifying of their rank and efforts.
And if the mujahideen in Iraq needed around 7 years for tamkin to be realized for them in the land, and perhaps more if we add the time of their jihad against the Crusaders, then the time will be nearer today- by the permission of God Almighty- and the stages will be passed to the point of restoring the abode of Islam, and establishing the religion in the east and west of the land. And indeed God supports the one who supports Him. God is powerful, mighty.