The Islamic State has suffered two major defeats along the Euphrates River Valley over the past 24 hours, significantly shrinking territory under its control. The Syrian military said it has taken full control of the city of Deir Ezzor, while the Iraqi military ousted the Islamic State from the border town of Al Qaim.
The Syrian military “announced on Friday the restoration of security and stability to the city of Deir Ezzor,” SANA, the state-run news service, reported. “After a series of accurate operations, the units of our armed forces, in cooperation with the supporting and allied forces, have accomplished their tasks of restoring security and stability to Deir Ezzor city,” according to a statement issued by the General Command of the Syrian Army and the Armed Forces. The “supporting and allied forces” are foreign Shia militias, including Hezbollah and the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, as well as the pro-Assad Tiger Forces. These militias are known to operate in the area and were recently involved in the offensive to retake the town of Mayadin.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent news gathering organization, confirmed that Syrian forces, including the Tiger Forces, along with Russian air power, have regained control of 95 percent of the city of Deir Ezzor, most of which has been under Islamic State control since July of 2014.
Just across the border in Iraq, the Iraqi Army announced that it has defeated the Islamic State in the border town of Al Qaim, and is now in control of the Husaybah border crossing with Syria. “Very soon we will declare full victory in Iraq,” the Iraqi military announced on its twitter feed.
— IRAQI NATIONAL ARMY (@Defense_Iraq) November 3, 2017
Iranian-backed Shia militias from the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is led by a US-designated terrorist, supported Iraqi troops in their offensive to retake the towns of Rawa and Al Qaim. The final push to retake the last two major towns in western Anbar province began just five days ago.
The US military targeted the Islamic State in Deir Ezzor and Al Qaim as the Syrian and Iraqi militaries pushed forward. Over the past 24 hours, the US military hit “four ISIS tactical units and destroyed an ISIS line of communication, a VBIED factory and an ISIS headquarters” near Deir Ezzour, according to a statement issued by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). “Near Al Qaim, four strikes engaged three ISIS tactical units and destroyed two VBIED factories, an ISIS-held building, two fighting positions and an ISIS spotter location.”
Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve hailed the Islamic State’s loss of territory in Iraqi and Syria. Yesterday, CJTF-OIR announced that “Over 96% of territory once controlled by ISIS is now liberated in Iraq & Syria.”
Over 96% of territory once controlled by ISIS is now liberated in Iraq & Syria pic.twitter.com/XWJc2xkTpr
— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) November 2, 2017
Over the past month, Islamic State has suffered major defeats with the loss of Raqqah and Mayadin in Syria, and Hawija in Iraq. The swift collapse of the Islamic State indicates that both the group’s combat power and ability to control territory has been severely degraded. However, the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, weathered the US “surge” from 2007 to 2009. While the group was defeated on the battlefield, it preserved enough of its forces to go underground and then successfully reignited the insurgency in both Iraq and Syria. By the end of the summer of 2014, the Islamic State controlled vast areas of both Iraq and Syria.
While CJTF-OIR is correct that the Islamic State has lost nearly all of its territory, the problem is that most of the territory has been ceded to the Syrian military and its allies, Hezbollah, and Iranian-backed Shia militias. Even the US allies have been less than ideal. The Iraqi military, backed by the Popular Mobilization Forces, has turned on the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government. And, while CJTF-OIR and the US military refuse to admit it, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which has liberated Raqqah and other areas in northeastern Syria, is dominated by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK, which is a US-listed Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.