More than three years after ISIS stormed in both directions across the Syrian-Iraq desert to establish its so-called “caliphate,” their most important stronghold has finally come under siege. The anti-ISIS coalition has begun its long-awaited assault on Raqqa, their claimed capital of their quasi-state in Syria, even as the battle in Mosul continues in Iraq:
“The Syrian Democratic Forces and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners launched the offensive to unseat ISIS from its so-called ‘capital’ of Raqqah in northern Syria, June 6,” according to a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the name for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces is the name for an umbrella organization of more than 40,000 Syrian Kurdish and Arab U.S.-backed rebel groups fighting ISIS in northern Syria.
“The SAC and SDF began marching on Raqqah in November and have been rapidly tightening the noose around the city since their daring air assault behind enemy lines in Coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqah,” the statement added.
“The multi-ethnic SDF is the Coalition’s local ground force partner in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria and they have proven themselves in Manbij, Tabqah and countless other towns and villages across northwest Syria over the past two years,” the coalition statement said.
The Raqqa mission was always the end game, but one might have expected it to occur more sequentially after Mosul was completely liberated. The forces in Mosul are separate from those approaching Raqqa, except for the US support supplied to both. The pocket in Mosul has collapsed down mainly to a few blocks in the old city, which may take weeks yet to clear. That won’t end the fighting in Iraq any more than the fall of Raqqa will end it in Syria, but it will make it much more difficult for ISIS to organize its terror networks — and more importantly, to recruit more fighters to operate them:
Lt. Gen Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding general, said the twin offensives in Mosul and Raqqa could deal an important blow to Islamic State recruiting.
“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend told reporters, according to the Reuters news agency.
Townsend also predicted “a lot of hard fighting ahead” even if the Islamic State is driven from the two cities, the militants last major urban strongholds.
The loss of Dabiq hit ISIS’ recruiting efforts hard, thanks to their own prophecies. According to their legends, the taking of Dabiq was the signal that a new caliphate was at hand, which lent ISIS enormous credibility for recruitment worldwide. After losing Dabiq to the Syrian army last fall, ISIS tried to explain it away as a transfer to another Muslim authority, but it nonetheless called their claim to divine appointment into question. Getting kicked out of both Mosul and Raqqa would destroy those claims, although they will undoubtedly still find a few recruits desiring an outlet for their psychopathic impulses. Giving those recruits a location to find ISIS might be tough, however; once they get booted out of Raqqa, the remnants will have to go on the run, and foreign fighters might choose to sneak out and go back home instead.
Interestingly, the date for this launch mirrors another moment in world history where a coalition of nations teamed up to assault the fortress of a fascist, genocidal regime. Seventy-three years ago today, the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and penetrated Nazi Germany’s Fortress Europe, spelling the eventual end of Adolf Hitler and his band of strutting, psychopathic nutcases. The massive invasion, still the largest military operation in history, took place two years and seven months after the US entry into World War II. The fact that it took us longer to get to Raqqa to destroy a terrorist army than it did for us to take on the Nazis on their seized turf should reflect poorly on our response to an entirely predictable threat, but at least we’re moving in the right direction now.