ISIS Caliphate Crumbles as Last Village in Syria Falls – Smart Media Magazine

ISIS Caliphate Crumbles as Last Village in Syria Falls

A four-year military operation to flush the Islamic State from its territory in Iraq and Syria ended on Saturday as the last village held by the terrorist group was retaken, erasing a militant theocracy that once spanned two countries.

Cornered in Baghuz, Syria, the last 1.5-square-mile remnant of the group’s territory in the region, the remaining militants waged a surprisingly fierce defense and kept the American-backed coalition at bay for months.

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They detonated car bombs and hurled explosives from drones. Suicide bombers ran across the front line under cover of darkness to attack the sleeping quarters of the coalition.

In the last weeks, the militants’ families fled for their lives, their black-clad wives streaming into the desert by the tens of thousands. Some of them defiantly chanted Islamic State slogans and lobbed fistfuls of dirt at reporters.

But after a grueling campaign, the last speck of land was finally wrested from the Islamic State.

“This is a big moment not just for us, but for all of the world,” said Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which led the operation. “But we cannot say that ISIS is finished. It is true that they are finished on the ground as a standing army. But the ISIS threat remains around the globe.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a trip to Beirut, told reporters that the battle against extremists will go on after the territorial defeat of ISIS.

“Our mission there hasn’t changed. We still have work to do to make sure radical Islamic terrorism doesn’t continue to grow,” he said.

By nearly every metric, the Islamic State is now a diminished force compared to its zenith four years ago: It has far fewer fighters and far less land, and the number of attacks it carries out worldwide has nose-dived.

The military operation to dislodge the Islamic State came at a heavy price. The western half of the city of Mosul, most of the Syrian city of Raqqa and numerous others wrested from the militants along the way are in ruins.

The 19-mile stretch of road from the Syrian town of Hajin, where the operation to remove ISIS from its last remnant of Syrian territory began last September, to Baghuz, is a scene of catastrophic destruction. Nearly every building is crushed or scarred. Craters, some large enough to swallow a tanker truck, mark the spots where 500-pound bombs made landfall.

“Why did they have to destroy all of Hajin?” asked Faisal Wuhaib Awad, 42, who owned a bakery there. “This was our livelihood. We went and looked and didn’t find a single ISIS body there. No weapons. Not even a single bullet. So how can they say that this was an ISIS hide-out?”

Syria remains mired in a civil war in which the battle against the Islamic State is only one conflict among many. The future of the land the group once held there, about a third of the country, is uncertain with the United States promising to withdraw its troops.

Those who have spoken to reporters have oscillated between acknowledging the group’s losses and insisting that such losses were only temporary.

“It’s getting smaller,” said Dure Ahmed, 28, from Toronto. “Much smaller. But a lot of people still have hope that one day it will flourish back.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Salam Abid, who spent four and a half years in Islamic State territory, fleeing only after 20 members of his family were killed in an airstrike.

“Maybe the group will be defeated in Syria, but not elsewhere,” he said, speaking through the bandages covering his burned face. “Sure, in Syria, they are down to nothing, but in the deserts of Anbar, they live on. And in Asia and in Africa, they are still fighting.”

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