In the Middle East, 2014 was definitely the “year of the Caliphate,” as ISIS went from one of many rebel factions inside Syria to a nation-state in its own right, with territory spanning roughly half of Syria and half of neighboring Iraq, declaring the land a new “Caliphate” and their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new caliph.
It wasn’t insignificant territory, either. From taking Ramadi and Fallujah in January to sacking the huge city of Mosul over the summer, ISIS has gone after big targets, and seizing $500 million from the Mosul central bank quickly became the best funded jihadist faction on the planet.
ISIS’ 2014 success also secured them some significant new alliances, with factions pledging loyalty to them in Egypt and Libya, and a growing recruitment surge that has followed the US-led war against them.
Several months in, the US war hasn’t amounted to much on the ground, with ISIS losing a handful of minor towns, while seizing a number of others elsewhere. In Syria the war has centered around destroying oil infrastructure, while the Assad government shifts its focus to other, smaller rebel groups.
While ISIS’ biggest gains came in spurts, and most of the time they were just consolidating newly-captured territory, there’s no denying 2014 was a major win for them, and going into 2015 the group will be looking to keep that momentum.
In Syria, the ISIS focus will probably continue to be on Kobani and other minor targets, with an eye toward eventually moving on the contested city of Aleppo. In Iraq, the ambitions are clearly much bigger, with the group having gotten its territory extend to the outskirts of Baghdad, increasing pressure on the Iraqi capital.
Iraq and Syria are where the biggest battles will doubtless be happening in 2015, but ultimately ISIS is also hoping to expand into other nations, with Lebanon and Jordan both likely near-term targets, and their successful recruiting worldwide meaning they could have a sudden presence virtually anywhere.