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The group’s de facto capital since early 2014, Raqqa is a jihadist springboard — the place where ISIS militants plan attacks in Syria and across the world and the epicenter of its twisted experiment in brutal self-governance. Now, backed by U.S. military advisers and punishing airstrikes, the Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces have the city surrounded on three sides.
The way forward won’t be easy. ISIS has transformed the city into a veritable fortress — riddled with vehicle-borne IEDs, booby traps, and snipers — which coalition-backed forces will have to take street by street as the Iraqi Security Forces have done during the months-long battle for Mosul. But with the group hounded by airstrikes and cut off from reinforcements, it’s only a matter of time before ISIS loses Raqqa.
However, the city’s fall won’t be the end of ISIS, and any talk of its demise is extremely premature. ISIS is defined by its barbarity and adaptability, relying on a unique brand of brutality and social media savvy to position itself as the world’s preeminent terrorist organization — and just as they did after recent losses in places like Ramadi and al Bab, the group’s fighters will regroup elsewhere, licking their wounds and lying in wait to fight another day.
U.S. Marine Corps photoU.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, Mar. 24, 2017.
It’s true that, for its more hardcore adherents, the group’s heyday is now largely over: Pressured on multiple fronts, it has lost fighters and bled territory, nearly 60,000 square kilometers since 2014, Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Task & Purpose. Revenue streams have dried up and precision airstrikes have decimated its upper echelons. What was once a transnational pseudo-state has rapidly shrunk, and even the group’s most die-hard defenders probably now see the writing on the wall: Raqqa, the throbbing heart of the Caliphate, is set to fall.
But ISIS, like so many other terrorist networks, is a hydra: Cut off the head, and several more rise up to take its place. As with Mosul, many leading ISIS figures in Raqqa have almost certainly already skipped town, leaving the city’s defense to rank-and-file cannon fodder ready to die for the cause.
“We’ve seen indications of ISIS setting up shop elsewhere, relocating leadership and attack cells from Raqqa down to the city of Mayadin in Deir el-Zour province,” Christopher Kozak, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Task & Purpose. In doing so, the group has moved to ensure that its institutional knowledge and most influential members are not in Raqqa when the heat really turns up.
Arab 24 network, via APIn this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces take up positions on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij, a flashpoint between Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, in al-Asaliyah village, Aleppo province, Syria.
This routine scattering of jihadist thinkers and planners does not bode well for future counterterrorism efforts. Defense Secretary James Mattis is clearly aware of this, saying in mid-May that the United States’ “annihilation campaign” is now aimed at surrounding and crushing the group in the areas it controls, rather than just pushing it into other areas. According to Kozak, this could involve moving to seize territory along Raqqa’s southern border, cutting off the last true path of escape. But because many high-level operatives have already left the city, it’s hard not to wonder whether the shift in U.S. strategy is simply too little, too late.
Even if all of the group’s Syria-based fighters are killed, ISIS will live on in the ether. Let’s not lose sight of one driving force behind the coalition’s efforts: the group’s proven ability to direct or inspire attacks by homegrown jihadists against Western targets. The group has long since established itself as the ultimate distributed terror network — one that spreads its message through high-quality propaganda that make the guys on old al Qaeda tapes look like public access TV. Along the way, ISIS has picked up franchises and devotees across the Muslim world, allowing it to engrain its ideology in places from Nigeria to the Philippines. The vast majority of this proselytizing has taken place digitally, just as the group has used social media and encrypted communications technologies to connect with its supporters and recruit potential fighters. Chased from Raqqa or not, ISIS will always have a home on the internet.
DoD photoEngineers from Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve assess the water levels of Lake Assad at the Tabqah Dam with Syrian Democratic Forces May 17, 2017.
So what will retaking Raqqa actually accomplish? For Kozar, losing the city will definitely represent a symbolic loss for the group even if it isn’t shattering blow: “Even if all goes to plan in the operation, we’ll still be left with an ISIS problem,” he told Task & Purpose. “The organization won’t simply disintegrate.”
It doesn’t help that the underlying issues that enabled the rise of ISIS are still present in both Syria and Iraq. In the latter, Sunni marginalization at the hands of the country’s Shiite majority still feeds extremist propaganda. The situation in the former — more than six years of brutal civil war — is even worse. Bashar al Assad is still president, lawlessness prevails, and fighters from all sides have succeeded in redrawing much of the country along sectarian lines. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the conflict, critical infrastructure has been obliterated, and most institutions symbolizing normality (schools, adequately supplied hospitals, etc.) have long since ceased functioning across most of the country. Syria is the ideal situation for ISIS to survive and recalibrate in the aftermath of losing a stronghold to coalition forces.
According to Kozar, “We’re probably never going to totally defeat ISIS.” Rather than vowing to completely destroy the group, “the goal should be reducing it to a level where local security forces can effectively manage it.” That is not yet the case in Iraq, where ISIS still carries out attacks at will. And it’s even more unrealistic in Syria, where conditions could hardly be more favorable for a terrorist group to flourish.
For now, retaking Raqqa would be a step in the right direction. But ISIS will undoubtedly live on.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.