Monday, October 3, 2016

Syrian rebels advance on the critically important ISIS held town of Dabiq.

Syrian rebels advance to Dabiq. Reuters.

Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, have launched a critical offensive against the ISIS held town of Dabiq. Wall Street Journal. Intense firefights have broken out, killing 15 rebels on the outskirts of the town. US support, including air and artillery strikes, have been backing the rebels. Dabiq has a massive role in ISIS propaganda. According to Islamic belief, Dabiq is one of two places where an massive battle between Islam and the rest of the world would occur, on the eve of the apocalypse. The town is so important to ISIS beliefs that they named their online propaganda magazine after the city. The battle for Dabiq isn't likely to end soon. Not only are ISIS fighters battling hard for the town, the area around Dabiq have been heavily mined and booby trapped. 

My Comment:
The Wall Street Journal downplays the importance of Dabiq for ISIS. It's a massively important town for them, even though it is only of minor importance strategically. Controlling Dabiq gives ISIS quite a bit of credibility and if they lose the battle there and the prophecy of the apocalypse doesn't happen, they lose almost all of it. 

To be fair, they are supposed to lose the battle of Dabiq, though not at first. They are supposed to fight back against the "Christian/Roman" armies there, defeat them and then get pushed back by the anti-Christ. When that happens Jesus will return and lead the Muslims to victory. Obviously, if that doesn't happen ISIS loses a lot of their religious justification for what they do. I think it's safe to say that this prophecy is far fetched, to say the least, but ISIS followers really believe it and it is a major motivation for why they fight. Though western media desperately tries to downplay the Islamic origins of the Islamic State, this goes to show how religious they actually are. 

And this would be a massive propaganda blow for ISIS as well. Losing the border areas with Turkey hurt them quite a bit strategically, and getting kicked out of most of Iraq was a much larger defeat then losing Dabiq would be, but neither loss would match the damage done to ISIS credibility then losing Dabiq. If they lose Dabiq, they lose their claim to be a caliphate and lose this prophetic justification for their war. 

Which makes me wonder how hard ISIS will fight for the city. If they treat it like it really is important they will probably lose a lot of their forces for a town that really doesn't matter in the strategic sense. If they pull out and abandon the city, they lose a lot of their religious credibility. Either way, it's a lose/lose situation for ISIS. I think they will fight harder then they would for a normal town, but if push comes to shove, they will let it go in the end.  

The news hasn't really sunk in to the general public but ISIS is really on the back foot. Other then Raqqa and Mosul in Iraq, they no longer control all that many larger cities. They have been completely pushed out of the border area between Turkey and Syria. This has cut off their supply lines with the outside world and makes it impossible for foreign recruits to cross into their territory. 
Though Raqqa is safe for now, there are rumblings that the battle for Mosul will start soon. 

ISIS can ill afford to lose any more towns, let alone one that has enormous effects on spirituality, morale and propaganda. Their situation is critical and the only reason they haven't been defeated yet is because their enemies keep getting in each others way. Syria and Russia are more focused on the rebels an al-Nusra, the Kurds and the Turks are focused on each other and the Americans are fighting with their hands tied behind their back. Given all that, it is still saying something that ISIS is still losing. 

It's clear that the tide has turned against ISIS, but is there anyway for them to come back? Not really. ISIS needs instability and chaos to thrive and I think Syria and Iraq are at peak chaos already. The Iraqi military has finally grown a backbone, due in part to US support, so there is nowhere it expand in that country. And though Syria is still a complete mess, the addition of the Turks to the war has left little room for them to expand there also, at least without coming under airstrikes. ISIS can't even attack the regime due to the fact that the Russians are backing them. No matter where they attack, they will come under withering airstrikes, and I am not convinced that they have enough men left to go on the offensive. 

No matter what happens in Dabiq, and I am convinced it will be a bloody defeat for ISIS, it seems clear that ISIS will be eliminated as a state rather soon. Raqqa and Mosul are doomed and ISIS will not be able to claim to be a state anymore if they no longer hold any territory. 

That doesn't mean that ISIS will be defeated once they lose their holdings. ISIS will most likely do what their progenitors, al-Qaeda in Iraq, did. Go underground, still commit terrorist attacks and then wait until conditions let them rise like a phoenix from the ashes of their state. I don't think for a second that the loss of Mosul and Raqqa will be the end of ISIS. They will still fight and they will still commit terror attacks throughout the world.

Speaking of terror attacks losing Dabiq may trigger quite a few. Losing the town may anger ISIS supporters in Europe and elsewhere enough that they will want to do something about it. There are always threats of lone wolf attacks and more organized groups attacking, but they may move their plans up if the town is recaptured. We will have to wait and see...  

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