ISIS has suffered two further blows in Syria.
Firstly there is confirmation that the Syrian army has resumed its advance along the main highway from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor. Yesterday the Syrian army successfully captured the so-called T3 pumping station from ISIS, and latest reports say that it is close to capturing the Arak gas fields east of the recently liberated town of Arak on the main highway from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.
Meanwhile further north, there are reports that US backed Kurdish forces, who have recently engaged in bitter fighting with ISIS fighters in the southern suburbs of Raqqa, have now finally – 6 months after their Raqqa offensive began – cut off the last road links into Raqqa, effectively cutting off the 3,500 ISIS fighters said to be in the town.
Though Raqqa is still nominally ISIS’s ‘capital’, in reality the group some time ago transferred most of its senior bureaucrats and leadership – including almost certainly its leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, if he is still alive – to the eastern town of Mayadin, 44 kilometres from Deir Ezzor.
ISIS will survive of Raqqa, and its ‘Caliphate’ will continue until the remaining territories under the group’s control in Syria and Iraq have been liberated. The final stand of the group will not be in Raqqa but in the stretch of territory along the Syrian-Iraqi border. That ISIS still retains strong forces there was yesterday confirmed by reports of a successful ISIS attack on a newly established Iraqi military base on the Iraqi side of the border. However, with Mosul likely to fall soon, and with Syrian and Iraqi troops converging on the area, it is likely only a matter of time before ISIS comes under pressure there as well.
Though Raqqa is no longer functionally as important to ISIS as it once was, and no longer serves as its ‘capital’, loss of Raqqa – the first Syrian provincial capital to have fallen under Jihadi control, and the town which is now associated worldwide with ISIS’s Caliphate – will nonetheless be a heavy blow to the group.
It is therefore likely that ISIS will put up the same sort of fanatical resistance against the Kurds there as its fighters are putting up in Mosul. Indeed a recent report from the BBC has confirmed that it is already doing so.
Longs weeks of bitter struggle lie ahead before ISIS’s brutal reign over Raqqa is finally brought to an end.