After months of planning and hesitation, US backed forces recently began an offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. Raqqa was seized by ISIS militants in January of 2014, and has been in their hands ever since. For the past several months, Kurdish and Arab militants of the Syrian Democratic Forces have been attacking the supply lines in to the city to weaken ISIS’ potential.
Despite ISIS being weaker than it was several years ago, there are still at least 3,000 fighters defending Raqqa, as well as 200,000 civilians who will face further humanitarian crises during and after the battle, regardless of who wins. Most of these threats obviously come from ISIS , which is known to use civilians as human shields as part of its cowardly battlefield tactics. It is also likely that many civilians who attempt to flee will be shot, either by ISIS fighters preventing them from escaping or by allied forces mistaking them for ISIS fighters. The allied forces have slowly been gaining ground on the city, and the battle is expected to be bloody, long, and hard fought, even with US air support.
US air support has played a crucial role in the ground war against ISIS. In a press release, US forces stated that they with “24 strikes engaged 18 ISIS tactical units; destroyed 19 boats, 12 fighting positions, eight vehicles.” These crucial strikes will make it easier for on the ground allied forces to push into the city.
While this attack is underway, there are several other major offensives that are dealing major blows to ISIS. Syrian forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad have recently liberated the town of Maskanah, the last ISIS stronghold in the Aleppo province. The Syrian Arab Army claims to have “recaptured 22 villages eliminating more than 1,200 militants of the so-called ‘Islamic State'”. In Iraq, allied forces continue their long offensive against Mosul. As ISIS fighters trapped in the city have become increasingly desperate, they are slaughtering civilians by the hundreds.
These three fields of battle, Raqqa, Mosul and Aleppo, were once some of ISIS’ strongest areas, and they will likely soon be overrun. What does this mean for the future of the organization? Will they be able to maintain their prominence and “legitimacy” without a physical caliphate to back them up? Recent attacks far away from the Caliphate show that ISIS still has the capacity to stage operations abroad. While it would be nice to think that once the Caliphate is retaken by the Syrians and allied forces ISIS would be finished, this is unlikely. ISIS related terror will be a problem that we will face for a long time.