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Columnist: ISIS truck attack: Kamikaze or Tet offensive?

As ISIS struggles to survive, they unleash a series of attacks in Paris, Brussels, Baghdad, Orlando, Istanbul and quite possibly Nice, France. The question is whether it is the last act of a desperate group, like Japanese pilots in World War II, or a terrorist organization gambling for resurrection, as was the case with the Viet Cong.

At this time (Friday), we know from Charlotte Alfred and Willa Frej from the Huffington Post that a truck smashed into a crowd in Nice, France, which had gathered to watch some Bastille Day fireworks. More than 80 are dead, and many more wounded. Alfred and Frej added that that someone from the French government said the vehicle had guns and grenades. The truck driver is dead.

Emily Shapiro from Good Morning America added that not only did the French president, Francois Hollande, label the event as likely due to terrorism, but he also called for an extension of the anti-terror “state of emergency,” implemented after the attacks in November, for another three months.

As of the writing of this article, ISIS has not taken credit. But there are some hallmarks of ISIS handiwork. It resembles the plans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who wanted to use a series of trucks to crash through, and blow up, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. And ISIS used a truck bomb recently in Baghdad. Zarqawi’s group served as the forerunner to ISIS. They are likely to take credit, even if it is a lone attacker.

This attack, the Istanbul airport bombing and ISIS taking credit for the Orlando shooting, are all designed to give the impression that the terrorist group is stronger than ever. But that’s not the case.

As early as last week, the Washington Post reported that ISIS is not only badly struggling, but was informing their followers that the caliphate would not last long. Losing members, leaders, territory and money, the group has been a mere shadow of its boastful presence just two years ago, when it looked like it would overrun Iraq and Syria.

Critics of our ISIS policy fear this is another Tet offensive. Some amateur historians believe that it was a tactical success, as it became the beginning of the end for American involvement in Vietnam. But that was hardly the case.

Not a single structure attacked became a Vietnamese possession. Nearly half of the attackers were killed in the attacks. One of the leaders admitted that the goal of starting a Southern insurgency failed badly in this attack. So how did it succeed?

Even though the NLF was struggling, they could at least claim that the American leaders were misinformed in their “positive indicators” approach was working. The Viet Cong could launch their attacks, and at least fight, if not win. The anti-war coalition picked up support from the media and many others. Despite being a tactical failure, it was a strategic success.

Or would this be similar to a desperate Japan during the final years of World War II? Losing islands, ships and planes, the Japanese launched desperate kamikaze attacks, where suicidal pilots would fly bomb-filled planes into Naval craft.

Though terrifying, deadly and damaging to 300 ships, such attacks did not change the outcome of battles. If anything, it seemed to harden American resolve to persist, even use destructive means to force surrender, figuring it was the only response to a self-destructive military policy.

This begs the question: is this latest terror wave a last gasp or a game changer designed to rattle attackers? Will the anti-ISIS coalition continue their progress of quietly dismantling the terror network with pinpoint bombings, allies on the ground and an aerial coalition, or give in to nervous voters and politicians and indiscriminately bomb the countryside, producing an overreaction as well as engage in domestic discrimination of Muslims, both of which would rally locals into joining ISIS, giving the group a new lease on life?

Our response may well determine how successful the terrorist plan will actually be.

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By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.