IS offensive running out of steam after rebel-regime victories

IS offensive running out of steam after rebel-regime victories
Analysis: A two-pronged attack by IS last week on Kobane and regime-held al-Hassakeh has been cut, with the group now on the defensive.
4 min read
29 June, 2015
Syrian rebels are also fighting IS around Aleppo [Anadolu]

As Turkey prepares for military intervention in northern Syria, the Islamic State group's "Ramadan offensive" looks like a failure.

The Islamic State group has been pushed out of Kobane by Kurdish militias and is similarly losing ground in al-Hassakeh.

The group still holds 50 percent of Syrian territory, and most of the country's oil and gas reserves, but a year-long offensive in Syria is being slowly rolled back by Kurdish, rebel and regime troops.

Anniversary of the 'caliphate'

As the group marks the one-year anniversary of its so-called "caliphate", serious concerns are emerging for IS - perhaps for the first time.

The joint Kurdish-rebel capture of Tal Abyad has cut off an important supply route that could curtail the group's export of black market oil and its ability to bring in new fighters.

Of more concern for Abubakr al-Baghdadi is that his fighters are now having to face an effective, aggressive and well-organised rebel force, according to the Soufan Group.

IS was able to re-enter Tal Abyad on Tuesday, but it remains unclear if the assault can be sustained or if this was another short-term show of strength, similar to the recent Kobane attack.

However, after months of desperately fighting off IS assaults, the Kurdish and rebel forces have become more effective, gaining confidence and capable of taking on and beating the extremists on their own "territory".

A week ago, Kurdish and rebel forces captured an IS base in Ayn Issa - the first line of defence for the group's de facto capital, Raqqa, which lies just 50 kilometres to the south.

These events were described by the Soufan Group as "the most serious and meaningful threat [to IS]" since Baghdadi made himself caliph.

Even IS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani has acknowledged this threat: "God never gave the mujahidin a promise of easy victory every time."

Many are analysing the most recent atrocities attributed to IS - in Kuwait, Tunisia and France - as a sign of military weakness on the main battlefield.

Aiming at soft civilian targets - which would appear out of character for the ultra-confident IS leadership - after serious defeats, the massacres might have been an attempt to give supporters a macabre morale boost.

     Kurdish and rebel forces have helped break the myth that the IS streamroller is unstoppable.

Even if the Kurdish forces cannot take Raqqa overnight, a protracted siege of the city could seriously sap resolve in the ranks, The Soufan Group says.

Breaking the offensive

Kurdish and rebel forces have helped break the myth this weekend that the IS steamroller is unstoppable.

Sources have told the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that signs of economic stagnation in Raqqa are becoming apparent.

Inflation is escalating and inequality between civilians and foreign fighters are becoming more marked.

IS militants are said to be oblivious, or ignoring, the poverty of Raqqa's civilian population and lapping it up in "luxury restaurants", said the observatory, an opposition-led monitoring group which relies on a vast network of sources inside the country.

Locals are also said to be frustrated by the role played by al-Hasba, the IS "police force". 

Its members are said to be ignoring traders that inflate the price of goods.

The "morality police" are said to be more concerned with minor infractions of a puritanical law code, such as punishing smokers, while business owners ramp up the price of basic goods

One woman was said to have been arrested by the IS police force for raising her dress while walking down a dark street.

Another man and his wife in Deir Azzour were accused by IS of "witchcraft" and killed, while this week, two women were beheaded by the militants in the first such execution of women. All of this hints at signs of desperation below the surface, say analysts.

Even against the under-equipped and over-stretched regime forces in al-Hassakeh, IS is reportedly performing poorly.

After Syria's information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, urged residents in the city to take up arms against IS, the group has been losing ground in the city.

IS booby-trapped lorries have killed 12 troops over the past 24 hours, but the group has been unable to stop pro-regime militias and troops from counter-attacking and recapturing the Nashwa neighbourhood.

Although IS is far from being a defeated force, this week could mark a significant setback for the extremist project in Syria.

Airstrikes by the UK might be extended to IS positions in Syria - if so, such a move could only add to the pressure and strains upon an army once seen as seemingly invincible.