Terror groups often assimilate tactics, strategies and ideologies used by other outfits. It makes things difficult for counterterrorism experts to judge who did what. For long it was believed that the Islamic State promotes a stay at home role for women. They abstain them from participating in direct combat. But this has changed.
The group is now looking for young female recruits as combat fighters as it is evident from their latest communications. “Today, in the context of the war against the Islamic State, it has become necessary for female Muslims to fulfil their duties on all fronts in supporting the mujahedeen in this battle,” an article posted on the web said. In addition, a female IS recruit recently wrote in Rumiyah, “Rise with courage and sacrifice in this war… not because of the small number of men but rather, due to their love for jihad.”
With major blows to their campaign in Iraq and Syria, the IS is changing its strategy, tactics and also moving its headquarters elsewhere. They have lost significant manpower and the IS needs to re-balance its recruitment deficit. During a recent discussion at the Aspen Security Forum, Gen Raymond Thomas, head of the US Special Operations Command, cited estimates saying that the US-led fight against the IS had killed 60,000 to 70,000 militants. Women will now play a critical role in the IS combat force that will temporarily fill in for the recruitment deficit.
Recent reports reveal that the IS has started deploying more women as combat fighters. This is a disturbing trend in an already blown-up situation. When it comes to fighting against security forces, women’s role is vital. From a social standpoint women are activists and play a vital role to motivate locals that help in recruitment, funding and moral support. Their role as enforcer of the group’s rule is indispensable.
Women are less vulnerable to screening that helps in perpetuating attack. They’re easy to trap and recruit. Also, they help in ideological efforts to support the terrorist group. Their role as wives, sisters and mothers is vital to sustain Jihadi ideology. Women are the best source of producing future recruits. In addition, they’re trapped to work as comfort women, who offer terrorists pleasure and help to recover from battleground memories.
Yet, their role in countering violent extremism has been indispensable but overlooked. But odd as it may seem, women’s role is critical to look beyond social strategies. At present, they’re only used for soft operations such as: identify, monitor and report the incident. They’re bound by table jobs. But they can do a lot more. The chances for women to penetrate a terrorist organisation are better than men. They can befriend enemy’s wife and be a better honey trap. They can provide sound assessments of the ground realities, groups’ strength and weaknesses, structure and internal dynamics. Such information can then be filtered to create diffidence among a group by exploiting its foot soldiers, structure, internal dynamics and ideology. Women can help create an easy access to important individuals, structures, aides and sleeper cells within terrorist organisations. In addition, to delegitimise the violent ideologies, they’re the best source of motivation and play an important role in de-radicalisation of society at large.
Recognising the role of women in countering the IS is critical to crafting a right strategy to dedicate necessary efforts to support the initiative. Yet, fighting insurgency or terrorism is not a unilateral phenomenon. It requires a mixed approach, which excludes the conservatism in gender balance. The violent extremist groups like the IS have revised their strategy to adopt women as combat fighters, security agencies needs to too.
It is vital to consider their role in countering violent extremism and threat posed by the IS. In order to expand their role it is vital to critically analyse what roles they can be allotted and under what circumstances that would be of great importance to intelligence community around the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2018.