WASHINGTON - Despite a significant decrease in recent years of the number of deaths caused by terrorism, terror groups remain a major threat to peace and stability around the world, according to a new report on terrorism.
According to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), deaths from terrorism fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, after reaching a peak in 2014. Since that time, the number of deaths has fallen by 52%, to 15,952 in 2018.
The annual report, published last week by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), focused on terror trends and activities around the world.
Steve Killelea, executive chairman of IEP, said that “IEP’s research finds that conflict and state-sponsored terror are the key causes of terrorism.”
In 2018, more than 95% of deaths caused by terror-related activities occurred in countries that were already in conflict, he said.
“When combined with countries with high levels of political terror the number jumps to over 99%. Of the 10 countries most impacted by terrorism, all were involved in at least one violent conflict last year,” Killelea said in a statement to reporters.
IS down but not out
The GTI finds that the number of deaths from terrorism in Iraq fell by 75% between 2017 and 2018, with 3,217 fewer people being killed.
Major military gains against the Islamic State terror (IS) group, such as recapturing its strongholds of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in those two years, have resulted in less deaths caused by the terror group.
Following the declared defeat of IS’s so-called caliphate in March of this year by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, IS has lost nearly all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.
“ISIL’s decline continued for the second successive year. Deaths attributed to the group declined 69%, with attacks declining 63 per cent in 2018,” the GTI said, using another acronym for IS.
IS “now has an estimated 18,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria, down from over 70,000 in 2014,” it reported.
Despite these significant successes, the terror group remains capable of carrying out terrorist attacks, experts said.
“It has not even been a year out from the fall of Baghuz [IS’s last pocket of control in eastern Syria], and IS is likely to reestablish areas of governance elsewhere in and around parts of Syria,” said Colin Clarke, a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center in New York.
Clarke told VOA that while IS might not have the ability to make territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, it still represents a major terror threat worldwide.
“Even if [IS] won’t be there as a state, it will certainly be there in the form of a low-level insurgency for the better part of next decade,” he predicted.
IS “may begin to seek a foothold elsewhere [and] shift resources to some of its affiliate franchise groups in places like the Sinai, Afghanistan or the Philippines,” Clarke said.
Turkey’s Syria invasion
The Pentagon’s Inspector General last week said in a report that Turkey’s military operation last month against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and the U.S. administration’s subsequent withdrawal has allowed IS to restructure itself and has increased its ability to launch attacks abroad.
The Defense Intelligence Agency said in the report that IS “has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”
Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance that has U.S. backing, said it is holding nearly 11,000 IS fighters in at least 30 prisons across northeast Syria.
Some experts said failing to deal with these prisoners is yet another factor that could increase threats posed by IS in the future.
“The U.S. withdrawal, coupled with the Turkish invasion and the inability to deal with people that are in detention camps in Syria, all that together has breathed new life into the Islamic State, where it should have been on life support,” analyst Clarke said.
Taliban in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the country most affected by terrorism, according to the 2019 GTI. The territorial defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq has resulted in the Taliban overtaking IS as the world’s deadliest terror group in 2018.
The study said terror activity by the Taliban rose sharply in 2018, as the militant group carried out attacks across the country.
The Taliban was responsible for 6,103 deaths in 2018, a 71% increase from 2017, the report found.
Experts estimate that approximately half the population of Afghanistan lives in areas either controlled or contested by the Taliban.
The number of deaths attributed to the Taliban rose by nearly 71%, to 6,103, and accounting for 38% of all deaths globally.
In addition to the Taliban, some IS-affiliated groups have had increased levels of terrorist activity in Afghanistan.
IS’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) was the fourth-deadliest terrorist group in 2018, with more than 1,000 recorded deaths, the majority of which occurred in Afghanistan.