U.S.-Backed Offensive Against ISIS In Syria Resumes

A Syrian Democratic Forces soldier attends the funeral of a fellow fighter, killed in clashes with Islamic State, in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishly in northeastern Syria. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysts warn that the terrorist group is small but nimble; it can simply elude capture and continue its activities elsewhere

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have resumed a large ground offensive against a pocket of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in eastern Syria with the aim of eradicating the terrorist group from the war-torn country. But given the ability of ISIS fighters to quickly relocate to different areas of the vast desert region, analysts warn that the operation could prove futile.

The SDF halted its assault on ISIS in late October when Turkey began shelling Kurdish military posts in northwestern Syria. Ankara considers the SDF a “terrorist” organization as it is composed primarily of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is viewed as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The latter has waged an insurgency against Turkey for decades in hope of achieving an autonomous Kurdish region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Since the offensive ground to a halt, ISIS has carried out a series of counter-attacks on SDF troops, killing or wounding scores.

“The British and American forces freed many ISIS fighters from Raqqa under a 2017 deal. So, the hard-core leadership got away and came to this eastern desert region and are now in Hajin,” Tim Ripley, a London-based defense analyst who has written extensively on the war in Syria, conveyed to The Media Line.

In a bid to stop the Turkish shelling, the SDF, which also consists of Sunni Arab units, intensively lobbied the U.S. and other members of the anti-ISIS international coalition. As a result of the negotiations, the Turkish military ceased its attacks and initiated joint patrols with American forces in areas of northern Syria. This deal allowed the SDF operation against ISIS to resume.

“What many people do not understand about these offensives is that they don’t involve very many people on both sides,” Ripley said. “ISIS fighters frequently maneuver around the desert and nobody ever captures or traps them. So, this is a running insurgency of a marauding group. Nobody seems to have enough forces to actually pin these guys in and finish them off.”

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Islamist groups at Bar-Ilan University, contended to The Media Line that, despite grand assertions to the contrary, the ISIS threat has not been eliminated.

“Although the area that Daesh [ISIS] controls is more limited now, they are in the population and can occasionally carry out attacks against the Druze, Kurds and other groups that oppose them. Their story is not finished yet,” he noted.

“The small number of jihadists in Syria are totally motivated, even though they are without a salary or any financial benefits. They don’t know what else to do with themselves. Jihad became their profession. The problem,” Dr. Kedar concluded, “is that if you succeed in eradicating them from any area, they run away and open a new franchise somewhere else; it could be in Sinai, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, the Philippines, or even in Europe because Kosovo apparently now houses a good number of jihadists.”

While fighting continues against ISIS in Syria, Iraqi government forces have also been waging battles against the group. Just last month, the U.S. military and Iraqi forces killed more than 50 ISIS jihadists, including several commanders. Even though Baghdad declared victory over the organization last year, it has managed to continue attacks throughout the north of the country.

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