Sunday, October 16, 2016

ISIS's most important symbolic holding, the town of Dabiq, has been liberated by Turkish backed rebels.

Dabiq was so important to ISIS that they named their propaganda magazine after it. Via Clarion Project

In a huge symbolic defeat ISIS has lost the town of Dabiq to Turkish backed Syrian rebels. Reuters. Rebels, backed by Turkish tanks and airstrikes, liberated the town along with a few surrounding villages. Dabiq plays a large role in Islamic prophecy. It is said to be one of two possible locations for the final battle between Islam and "Rome". ISIS has used that myth as a propaganda tool and have even named their online propaganda magazine after the town. Dabiq was also the place where ISIS filmed the execution of US journalist Peter Kassig in 2014. Since Turkey joined the war on the side of the rebels, ISIS has downplayed the significance of the town, which has little strategic value on its own saying that the apocalyptic battle described in prophecy was still yet to come. The victory comes after ISIS has been largely cut off from the outside world after Turkey closed the border and cleared out the border region. 

My Comment:
Well, if the prophecy was correct then ISIS certainly didn't live up to their obligations in the battle. From my understanding, they were always supposed to lose the battle, in spectacular fashion, but then Jesus, an important figure in Islam, is supposed to show up and bring about the end of the world right afterwards. I haven't heard any reports of Jesus coming back but if he does, this blog will be the first to report on it! 

In all seriousness though, this is a massive loss for ISIS. Dabiq was a major propaganda victory for ISIS when they captured it back in 2014. They celebrated in the streets and they believed that they really were playing their part in the end of the world. Obviously, the end of the world hasn't happened yet, even though ISIS lost the city. Losing the city has to be a huge blow to morale for ISIS. 

From a strategic viewpoint, leaving Dabiq makes sense. Dabiq has little importance other then it's role in prophecy. It provides little resources for ISIS and defending it just wouldn't be worth it. Trying to defend it would be pointless because it was in a salient, which was about to be cut off by the Turks and rebels. If they had committed to defending it, they would have lost most of their troops, troops that are better spent defending Raqqa and other ISIS holdings. It was the right call for ISIS, despite the town's symbolic importance. 

Still, ISIS has to take a credibility hit by losing this town. They have always said that they are legitimate because they are following prophecy. Well right now it sure looks like they are doing anything but. Sure rushing thousands of troops into the town would have been suicide and might have been enough for ISIS to be defeated in Syria. But that is what they are supposed to do if they are following the prophecy! So right now they seem like they are bad Muslims, defying Allah's will. I'm not going to get into the "no true Muslim" debate about ISIS, but I am sure there are going to be people using that criticism against them. 

I am fairly disappointed that Dabiq was liberated by the Turks. Sure it was the "rebels" but those rebels are just a proxy force for Turkey anyways. They are mostly ethnic Turks and the follow the orders of the Turkish government. And they have to be coordinating very closely with the Turkish government in order to be effectively using tanks and airstrikes. You need coordination with those weapons because if you don't you get blue on green friendly fire incidents. 

That's not to denigrate the lives spent liberating the border area. The Turks and their rebels have been fighting hard against ISIS and have been very effective at pushing them back. So much so that the only reason ISIS is still standing is that Turkey hasn't committed full resources to the fight. Pushing ISIS out of Dabiq is a major victory and it should be celebrated. 

So why I am I upset about this? Well for one, I dislike Turkey and their government. They have been poor allies, both in Syria and in the region in general. I don't like their leader and I don't like the direction they are taking their country. Though I think that the liberation of Dabiq is a major victory for everyone opposed to Islamic extremism, I also don't think you can't count Turkey as on that side. Sure, they are fighting ISIS now, but for a long time they were content to let ISIS recruits cross the border in exchange for ISIS oil heading in to their country. They could have closed the border region a long time ago and their failure to do so greatly prolonged the war. 

Secondly, I am worried about what Turkey is going to do next. Though Dabiq is reasonably near the Turkish border, it is still rather further out then I though the Turks were going to operate in. Their supposed goals in Syria were to both drive back ISIS from the border and keep the Syrian Kurds from linking up with each other. Both of those goals have been accomplished now, so why is Turkey still fighting in Syria? Hell, all they would need to do now is to pull back into defensive positions and their war would essentially be won...

My fear is something else is going on. The direction Turkey and their rebels are heading isn't towards ISIS anymore. They have plenty of cities and towns that Turkey could have gone after in the eastern part of the theater. But they went west instead. Why? What is west of Dabiq?

The answer to that is Aleppo. The largest battle in the war is currently being won by regime forces. The rebels trapped their have been cut off and it looks like they are going to either have to surrender or be defeated entirely. If something isn't done, the city will fall and will finally fall back into the hand of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Turkey does not want that to happen. Indeed, they have been supporting the rebels throughout the war and a move towards Aleppo could mean that they want to join the battle there. That sounds pretty insane to me, given the fact that Russia is extremely deeply involved in Aleppo and they will try and defend the gains that the regime have won there. 

My fear is that a drive to Aleppo by Turkey could result in a wider war, one that could involve Russian and Turkish forces fighting each other. That would be a huge problem for just about everyone since Turkey is part of NATO and having them fight with Russia could draw the whole alliance into a massive war. 

I am hoping that my thoughts here are wrong. I do think that trying to fight Russia and the regime would be criminally stupid to the point of insanity and even though I don't think much of the Turkish regime, I don't think they are that stupid. The most likely explanation is that they new the symbolic importance of Dabiq and decided to just take it for that reason. Still, I don't trust Turkey and I hope that my speculation above turns out to be incorrect... 

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