The war against ISIL is not over. While the mainstream media are busy with Donald Trump and Theresa May, the multilateral conflict against ISIL rages on with uncertain results. The black flag of the insurgents is still up in Syria and Iraq (not to mention an unknown number of their members who escaped from Libya and are still unaccounted for). At the present day, we have five different battles going on between ISIL and various aggregation of allied forces with no end in sight. It looks like that the end of the self-proclaimed caliphate is still far from reality.
The aforementioned media have been quite busy showing us the image of ISIL forces pushed to the limit by airstrikes and almost overwhelmed by ground forces. Iraq is almost freed, they say, Syria will also be free in a matter of a few months, that was the message. A pity that reality is a bit different. ISIL forces have been damaged and reduced in combat capability, that’s for sure, but they’re still fighting and are still able to do a lot of damage.
There’s a city named Deir ez-Zor in Syria, where ISIL forces had set up a siege against units of the regular Syrian Army since July 2014. Even worst, recently they managed to split the Syrian forces on the ground. The entire governorate of Deir ez-Zor is under ISIL control and the airstrikes enforced by Russian strategic bombers so far are not enough to push back the insurgents. For the Syrian forces in the area, it’s a dire situation, the risk of being annihilated is quite serious.
We all heard about Palmyra, haven’t we? ISIL reconquered most of the town and the near airport last year, then the situation on the ground this month is about sporadic clashes and skirmishes. Opposite forces are esteemed about 4,000 to 5,000 and no major development is in sight. US airstrikes in December and this month has been successful, killing the local ISIL leader and the most part of their heavy equipment.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the battle of Mosul is slowly going forward. Allied forces conquered about half of the city and the most part of the villages around. It looks like that ISIL still have control of two access routes to Mosul and about 10,000 insurgents still able to fight. The conquest of the city will be a slow process, due to the presence of snipers, mines, and IED. It’s likely to ISIL will try to exfiltrate their leaders before Mosul will be surrounded. There are still 1,5 million civilians in the area, used as workforce and human shields from the insurgents.
In Syria, not so far from Aleppo, there is the city of Al-Bab. There is a tri-lateral conflict ongoing between Syrian armed forces (backed by Russians and US forces against ISIL), Syrian insurgents backed by Turkey and ISIL forces. The skirmishes are going on in the villages near the city, with small-scale operations to gain control of a hill or from some vantage point. There is no clue about any major attack against ISIL or about counteroffensive from the insurgents.
The last battle is for the city of Al-Raqqah; this is the self-proclaimed capital city of the ISIL caliphate, likely it will be the strongest point of their resistance against allied forces. The city is still under total ISIL control and the allied offensive has been to take back from the insurgents the most part of the country land (200+ villages, civil installations). One of the main targets is now the Tabqa Dam, a keystone in the insurgent’s defense. The basic idea is to cut away the city from reinforcements and set up a siege. ISIL forces are estimated in about 8,000 insurgents, with the most part of the surviving leaders at the helm.
What’s needed to win this war? A lot, of course. The main factor that is denying a swift victory against ISIL is the persistence of different agenda for the foreign powers involved in the area. Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US, and the EU are interfering with each other and with a plethora of local factions, slowing the process of taking back the lands of Syria and Iraq from the self-proclaimed caliphate. Sooner or later, some pragmatic decision will be taken for the future of said nations. Meanwhile, soldiers and civilians alike are still dying and those black flags are still flying.