Consequent to well coordinated and determined operations by various anti-terrorist forces ; Daesh or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has been decisively defeated in Syria, Iraq and Philippines. ISIS was defeated in Iraq a few months back by Iraqi Armed Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga duly supported by US and coalition air power. US special forces had also guided and coordinated the operations. Shortly thereafter, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) consisting mainly of Kurds and some moderate Arab opposition armed groups , supported by US and allies airpower and special forces defeated the ISIS in Raqqa, the stated capital of the Caliphate in Syria. In the end, Syrian Arab Armed Forces supported by Iran, Russia and Iraqi Forces have captured Albu Kamal, the border town south of Deir al Zour. Sadly, this is not the end of violence in the Middle East.
It is a coincidence that ISIS defeat in Raqqa, coincided with its defeat in Marawi, Mindanao, in Philippines. Although both the operations in two different parts of Asia took nearly six months to complete with totally different dynamics ; it can safely be assumed that the head and tail of the Caliphate has been dismembered and annihilated. Shortly, thereafter Deir al- Zour , another ISIS strong hold astride Tigris and the last bastion of ISIS has fallen to the Syrian government troops. With ISIS having been decidedly defeated in Iraq earlier, the remnant cadres in Syria in small pockets are unable to reorganise and launch any worthwhile counter offensive.
Raqqa is located on the banks of Tigris river and in addition to being the first major city coming under their control; was the capital of the Caliphate and a pivotal city for ISIS to launch operations on Aleppo, Idlib and towards Damascus in 2014. The loss of Raqqa and Deir al Zour means a death blow for ISIS in Syria and it will be impossible for them to reorganise or link up with its cadres across the border in Iraq as those areas including Al Qaim are dominated by and are under the control of Iraqi Forces.
In an operation that was mounted in June this year and lasted over six months, the SDF first advanced to the city of Raqqa clearing all opposition enroute, encircled it and then started reducing it by fighting and getting one foothold at a time. The battle in Raqqa reminded us of battle of Grozny in Chechnya which was reduced to rubble by Russians in a fierce fighting continuing over a year. Emboldened by this success of SDF, government troops went in for Deir al Zour.
The cost to civilian lives and the disruption was colossal in Raqqa. The majority of over 2,70,000 citizens were either displaced, injured or killed. Those who were trapped inside the city between two sides had suffered malnutrition and deprivation of basic needs of healthcare, water and food items. In addition, lots of heritage buildings, archeological and architectural sites have been damaged or destroyed.
Starting in June 2014, ISIS spread like wild fire in Iraq and Syria capturing the major towns of Mosul, Kirkuk and Sinjar in Iraq leaving a trail of violence, destruction and anarchy unparalleled in twenty first century. The well equipped and highly armed Iraqi Army did not pose any resistance and was totally disintegrated. After looting $ 500 million from the Central Bank in Mosul and controlling Baiaji, Tikrit and other oil rich areas astride the Euphrates and Tigris rivers ISIS became formidable. Based on their success in Iraq, the ISIS got emboldened and swept north eastern portions of Syria in the same wave leaving a state of terror and ethnic cleansing in the wake.
ISIS publicly executed five of the twenty odd western journalists challenging the authority of western democracies and creating tremendous domestic pressure. It was the tipping point and western powers had no option but to go in for ISIS in Iraq and Syria in September 2014. Russia moved in to save the Assad government in September 2015. It also started bombing ISIS and moderate armed opposition groups’ positions and helped the government troops to defeat ISIS in Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour.
The terror tactics that ISIS used also became its nemesis because they ended up alienating the Sunni majority in addition to the excesses they carried out on the minorities and foreigners. The worst hit community was Yazidis in Iraq wherein 5000 men were killed and 7000 women and children were taken as prisoners to be converted into sex slaves. United Nations in a conservative estimate has stated casualties to civilians as 7000 killed in 2016 and nearly 3000 in 2017. As per Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 475, 000 personnel including 100,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al- Assad began in March 2011.
After the victory in Raqqa and Deir al Zour, a repeat of what is happening in Kirkuk and Mosul in Iraq is likely to follow. Opposing sides are going to attempt to fill in the strategic void created by the defeat of ISIS resulting in fresh battles between the SDF and government supported militia and government troops. It may be recalled that Russia, Iran and Hizbullah are fighting on the side of the Assad Government whereas Kurds and moderate opposition armed groups in SDF are supported by US, France, UK, Germany and some other member states of EU. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other gulf states have supported the Syrian armed opposition groups resulting in proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the battlefield called Syria.
The menace called ISIS is not totally destroyed or wiped out and will keep showing its head in isolated cases in the western world like the recent attack in Paris, Barcelona, London and New York. The terrorist groups who had taken franchise of ISIS will be on the back foot for some time. ISIS in the same form is unlikely to show its head again but as long as the socio- economic aspirations of sections of society the world over continue to be unaddressed, it will show up in some form or the other. Member states of United Nations need to cooperate and share actionable intelligence regarding existing and emerging terrorist groups in order to ensure lasting peace.
As far as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan are concerned, violence will continue in the near future. Government troops of Turkey, Iraq and Syria are likely to go for Kurds in respective territories inhibiting Kurds from joining up and creating a state of their own.