Fight to retake last ISIS territory begins

The assault is the final chapter of a war that began more than four years ago after the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, seized enormous tracts in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate.

By: New York Times | Published: September 12, 2018 8:54:33 am
Iraqi border guard troops look out across the border near the Syrian town of Abu Kamal, April 27, 2018. The last vestige of Islamic State group territory came under attack as members of an American-backed coalition in Syria began a final push to oust the militants from their once-vast caliphate. (Ivor Prickett/ The New York Times)

The last vestige of the Islamic State’s caliphate that straddled Syria and Iraq is under attack.

Members of a US-backed coalition said Tuesday they had begun a final push to oust the militants from Hajin, Syria, the remaining sliver of land under the group’s control in the region where it was born.

The assault is the final chapter of a war that began more than four years ago after the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, seized enormous tracts in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate. The group lost its last territory in Iraq last year.

The caliphate put the Islamic State on the map physically and politically.

The group seized major industries and taxed residents, generating enormous sums to fund its war effort, including training fighters to carry out attacks in Europe. The notion of the caliphate also provided a powerful recruiting tool.

As the group’s territory has shrunk, the number of foreign recruits has dwindled. Still, security analysts say that even after the group’s expected defeat in Hajin, the Islamic State is likely to remain a powerful terrorist force.

The Islamic State remains just as determined to stage attacks in the West, but advances in counterterrorism and law enforcement abroad have frustrated many of its efforts.

Hajin appears to have only a few major streets and just one public hospital. An estimated 60,000 people are believed to be living there and in a smattering of neighboring villages.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led militia fighting the Islamic State in Syria, is nevertheless preparing for a slog. One senior militia official estimates the fight will last two to three months.

Aerial surveillance indicates fighters have mined the circumference, laying explosive devices on the roads leading into the area.

And to facilitate escape, they have buried large quantities of cash and hidden weapons and ammunition, strategically positioning resources in the desert, analysts say.

The forces fighting the jihadis on the ground are a mix of Kurdish and Arab militias that have been working closely with an international coalition led by the United States to push back the jihadis.

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