News of the fight against the Islamic State has not been in the headlines too much recently, which I find surprising due to the recent terror attacks in Spain and the United Kingdom. The last time I can remember thorough coverage of the Syrian Civil War and the fight against ISIS was following the U.S. airstrikes on a Syrian airbase and the use of a MOAB against ISIS forces in Afghanistan. Even though many of us have stopped paying attention to the war in Syria and Iraq, that does not mean the conflict has stopped or slowed down. If you (understandably) have not been paying attention to the conflicts recently, allow me to fill you in a bit on them with some good news and some bad news.
(Disclaimer that I am not a national security expert, if you are more knowledgeable about this topic than I am, I encourage you to correct me if I am wrong at all)
The Good News:
The fight against ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq has been incredibly successful in recent months. Offensives have retaken major cities, most notably Mosul, and everyday coalition forces push further and further into ISIS territory, liberating villages, towns and cities. Most recently, Raqqa, a major city in Northern Syria and the de facto capital of ISIS, has been completely encircled by coalition forces, who continue to push inwards to liberate the city center. Elsewhere, Russian-backed forces of the Syrian Government are pushing to retake the city of Deir ez-Zor, which may allow anti-ISIS forces to push south along the Euphrates River and liberate the villages and towns that are on the river (Maps of the territory controlled by ISIS can be deceiving, due to large swaths of territory they control that upon closer inspection are largely uninhabited and uninhabitable expanses of desert). With the Iraqi government pushing in from the East, the Syrian government from the west, and the Kurds from the north, it is clear that ISIS’s dreams of a physical Caliphate are long over.
The Bad News:
Just because ISIS may lose their lands, that does not mean that they as a threat are over. In fact, their loss of territory may make things worse, as ISIS fighters who came to Syria and Iraq from foreign countries will attempt to return home. These are battle-hardened, thoroughly radicalized individuals who pose a grave danger to their home countries. When the Caliphate began to lose territory, and saw the writing on the wall, they began to encourage radicalized individuals who have not left their home countries to step up their attacks. This may explain the rise in recent attacks, like the one in Spain and the series of attacks in the United Kingdom. So unfortunately, we may see a rise in homegrown terror attacks in the months ahead as ISIS gets more and more desperate.
The defeat of ISIS also does not mean peace in the region. Once the common enemy is gone, factions that may have previously fought alongside each other may try to assert themselves. The conflict between the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad and Syrian rebels does not show any signs of stopping, and an independence referendum in Kurdistan may lead to conflict in that region.
So, while the ground war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq may be drawing to an end, the overall conflict against ISIS is far from over, as homegrown terror attacks may begin to rise. We are making progress, but there is still a long road ahead. This is not merely a step in the right direction, this is a huge push in the overall conflict towards the eventual defeat of ISIS, an end to their barbarism, and the potential beginning of a process of rebuilding in the region that has been consumed by war.
Photo Credit: BBC