It was almost five years ago, in June 2014, when the ‘Daesh’ (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or IS) had shot into notoriety after it had captured the town of Mosul in Iraq. Mosul had succumbed to the Daesh onslaught after its cadres had taken full control of day-to-day governance of the town.
The terror outfit rapidly expanded towards Syria. In its onslaught, it ransacked the historic city of Palmyra in May 2015 and declared the city of Raqqa as the capital of the self-styled ‘Islamic caliphate’. Once, Daesh was in control of 30,000 square miles of territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syria borders. Daesh was known for suicide bombings, kidnappings, rapes, enslavement, and mass killing of all those who refused to endorse their horrendous politics or terrible sectarian ideology. Thousands of children became orphans and many women became widows due to its barbarism. There are many mass graves in the areas they had ruled in last 4-5 years. The mass killing of ‘Yazidis’ in Iraq was among the most heinous crimes the terror outfit committed.
The gradual fall of Daesh began when the Iraqi forces took back the city of Ramadi and Fallujah and later the joint operation of Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition forces with the help of local Kurd militia known as ‘Peshmerga’ were able to retake the city of Mosul in July 2017. The IS faced major defeats in Raqqa and Palmyra in Syria when both fell to US-backed local militias and the global coalition in late 2017. The US led forces also had the full support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The joining of the anti-IS coalition by the Syrian Democratic Forces who had been at the forefront of combating this menace were responsible for expediting the fall of the Daesh in Syria. The US extended full support despite opposition from some quarters like Turkey because of their Kurdish links. The Kurds helped to defeat Daesh in Raqqa and other towns of Syria. The SDF, apart from of US-led coalition and Russian forces were the real game changers in anti-IS battle.
In recent months, the SDF was able to close in to the last enclave of the Daesh in the small village of Baghouz on the Syria-Iraq border. Weeks of bombardments and air strikes drove many of the IS fighters to flee or join the SDF to give a final blow to the IS.
It has been reported that in the span of last three months around 5000 Daesh militants in Baghouz who till recently were giving tough fight to the SDF and its allies, have moved towards the town of Idlib, another enclave of anti-IS forces in Iraq and some militants might have fled to Turkey. The US State Department has already declared the defeat of the IS in Syria and also announced the withdrawal of its forces from Syria. But, later changed the decision to withdraw completely and now Washington is planning to stay with a force of 400 to assist the NATO forces in the area to prevent Daesh’s reemergence.
The battle against the IS seems to have ended but there is still a long way ahead. Many IS fighters who had come from different European and Asian nation are in Syrian jails. They have to be brought to justice by their home countries. President Trump has asked many European countries to take back around 800 fighters and put them on trial. Some countries have shown their reluctance to take the militants back fearing their resurgence and as a threat to national security.
Mr. Trump has even threatened to release the captured militants and allow them to go back to their own counties. The biggest concern for the international community is to locate the Daesh fighters who had fled Syria during the final showdown. Their potential to reassemble in other countries due to presence of many sympathizers across nations cannot be ruled out. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed by the global community on an urgent basis.
Script: Dr. Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, Strategic Analyst On West Asia