Islamic State group slowly being ground down in Syria

Islamic State group slowly being ground down in Syria
Analysis: Pummelled by the international coalition's airstrikes and offensives by Kurdish and Free Syrian Army forces, the Islamic State group is on the defensive in many areas of Syria.
5 min read
24 February, 2015
The IS reportedly lost around 1,000 fighters in Kobane [Anadolu]
The strength of the Islamic State group has been severly depleted, according to experts.

The group (IS, formerly known as Isis) has been fighting on multiple fronts in Syria against Kurdish forces, Syrian rebels and regime forces, suffering several defeats - notably at Kobane, at the hands of the Kurdish People's Protection Forces (YPG) backed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The US-led coalition's airstrikes have also been reported to have claimed the lives of around 1,000 IS fighters, according to estimates by the UK-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Local sources in Kobane said municipal services committees collected more than 150 bodies belonging to the group, left behind by the IS between destroyed buildings in the final two weeks of the fighting. The IS defeat here has also reportedly prompted many of its Syrian and foreign fighters to abscond and desert the group.

IS is not an existential threat to US interests. Read more.

In the past two days alone, the coalition has carried out at least ten airstrikes on IS positions in the Hasakah and Raqqa countryside.

Clashes between the IS group and regime forces take place almost on a daily basis in Deir al-Zour and in the vicinity of the nearby air base.

The group is also engaged in active fighting with rebel and Kurdish forces in the eastern Aleppo countryside and in the countryside north of Hasakah.

The IS group does not seem capable of replacing these losses.

The IS defeat in Kobane has reportedly prompted many of its Syrian and foreign fighters to abscond and desert the group.

Recruitment problems

Muayid al-Hamad, an activist, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Turkish border guards near IS-controlled areas in Syria have tightened security to prevent anyone from crossing into Syria except through the official Tal Abiad crossing.

These measures are intended to prevent foreign fighters from bolstering the group.

In light of these developments, the group has reportedly started to recruit Syrians from the areas it controls.

Activists from the campaign Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a group operating in secret in IS-controlled regions of Syria, have published information on alleged meetings between IS commanders and tribes, who were asked each to recruit 1,000 fighters for the group.

The IS wants to use new recruits to curb the advances by the FSA and YPG in the northern Raqqa and eastern Aleppo regions. RBSS activists said tribal representatives rejected the request, because of the huge losses IS has suffered.

On the defensive

These developments have forced IS forces on all fronts in Syria to assume a defensive posture. As a result, the group is no longer taking the initiative. The IS has effectively retreated from many areas it was trying to control.

According to a recent report by the London-based Syrian Observatory, the YPG, along with the Raqqa Revolutionaries' Battalion and the FSA's Northern Sun Brigades, were able to retake 242 villages in the Kobane countryside after they winning back the town late last month.

The Syrian Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources within the country, said the regions controlled by the Kurdish forces and the FSA now include ten towns and villages within the Raqqa governorate. This has allowed opposition forces to block the strategically important Rodko road, which links Aleppo in the north to the governorate of Hasakah in the east.

Local sources in the city of Tal Abiad on the border with Turkey, north of Raqqa city, said the YPG and FSA were now less than 25km away from the city, one of the most important held by IS.

Closing in

Hassan Abdul-Kafi, an activist, told al-Araby that the YPG and FSA forces were less than six kilometres away from the strategic Qaret Kowzak bridge, which crosses the Euphrates River near the city of Manbej north of Aleppo and links the region with eastern Syria.

These developments have forced IS forces on all fronts in Syria to assume a defensive posture.

The bridge is one of the most important links between the Aleppo governorate and the Syrian Jazira region north of the Euphrates.

It has a special strategic significance to IS, which has mobilised large numbers of fighters to defend it. The dramatic retreat of the IS in the eastern Aleppo countryside has prompted the group to launch counter-attacks in the region to retake some of the areas it recently lost.

According to the Syrian Observatory, the Islamic State group tried to advance in areas controlled by the YPG and the FSA near the Qaret Kowzak bridge. It also tried to advance into the northern Raqqa countryside to retake areas seized by the YPG, and secure the Rodko expressway.

The fighting that ensued claimed the lives of at least three Kurdish fighters and nine from the IS group.

All this comes amid clashes between throughout the eastern Aleppo countryside. The YPG and the FSA are pushing to make further gains in the areas close to the city of Jarabulus, east of Aleppo. They are also attempting to force IS to retreat from a cement factory near the town of Serrin.

Pressure on the IS along the front lines does not come solely in the Aleppo region.

In the past two days, the YPG began an offensive against IS-controlled areas around Tal Hamis, north of the city of al-Hasakah, in north-eastern Syria, re-taking control of more than 20 villages, according to eyewitnesses.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.