In the uproar of increasing battle, the Islamic State abruptly moved its entire head quarters from Raqqa, Syria to Deir ez-Zur, about ninety miles southeast of their original location. It is said that the move is being looked upon as an indicator of a potential breakdown within the terrorist organization. However, the relocation did not protect ISIS leaders from evading the Americans.
On Saturday, October 21, Washington revealed the implementation of a military operation in the same region, which resulted in the death of the senior leader of the organization Abdul Rahman al-Uzbek, who was close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
A freshman student at SLVHS says he is “surprised that they are finally getting what they deserve,” but that “it’s been a long time coming,” referring to ISIS losing territory. He also adds, “I think that ISIS having to move their capital shows how little in control they are.” and that he “hopes they continue to shrink” their territory.
U.S. military drones have watched hundreds of ISIS “bureaucrats,” or administrators, leaving Raqqa in the past two months for the city of al-Mayadin located further down the Euphrates River from Deir el-Zour where U.S. Central Command announced that it killed mid-level ISIS “operative” Abdurakhman Uzbeki. The battle for Raqqa continues but the ISIS government is no longer there. Now that Turkey’s constitutional referendum has been completed, U.S. military officials hope to forge ahead with a more aggressive plan to assault Raqqa in the near future. A major sticking point of NATO-ally Turkey is the use of Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which for years the Pentagon has called the best fighters on the ground against ISIS. Turkey has claimed the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, a group labeled a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.
Since ISIS made international headlines by invading Iraq from Syria in June of 2014, its territory has shrunken considerably. The terrorist group’s steady loss of territory is why they relocated. Three months later ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq was at its maximum. The radical Islamist group controlled land stretching from central Syria all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad including major cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Raqqa. Although the region ISIS controlled was mostly desert, it encompassed an array of ethnic and religious groups, including Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shiite Arabs, and Sunni Arabs. Many of the non-Sunni groups were the victims of targeted violence by ISIS, which perpetrated genocide against the Yazidis and Assyrians. Since October, the group has lost all of its major urban strongholds and is now confined to the sparsely-inhabited border territories between Iraq and Syria. Even though most of their territory has been diminished, the small area that they fell back on is the area that helped their rise.
A municipal soccer stadium located in Raqqa was always called “The Black Stadium” because of its dark concrete construction, but that name took on a whole new meaning when it became an arena for horror under the rule of the Islamic State. Today, ISIS is gone and the bleachers are draped with the flags of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This was the final redoubt of a handful of ISIS fighters, and when it fell last Friday, victory over that terror organization in its de facto capital was declared complete. But much of the city is destroyed, and for the few people who’ve made it back, memories of what life here was like are hard to retrieve. The stadium became known for beheading people and was used as a prison where eighty percent of the prisoners were killed. In the locker rooms, showers, and gym beneath the stadium, ISIS created cells and torture chambers for its feared security arm, known as the Amni.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of the U.S.-led coalition based in Baghdad, said last month that Syrian Kurdish fighters would participate in “in some form or fashion” in the operation to retake Raqqa. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of the U.S.-led coalition based in Baghdad, said last month that Syrian Kurdish fighters would participate in “in some form or fashion” in the operation to retake Raqqa. There are other looming questions about whether the Pentagon will supply heavy weapons to the Kurdish fighters over objections from Turkey. The speed at which fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) can get into Raqqa depends on their access to heavy weapons, according to U.S. officials. While there is an Arab component to the SDF, American officials admit there are not enough of them.
In a sign of the increasing American role on the ground in Syria, last month a U.S. Marine artillery battery with some 400 Marines was inserted outside Raqqa to shell the ISIS capital with artillery rounds. The Marines later supported a U.S.-led air assault, when hundreds of Syrian fighters, along with some U.S. backed special operations forces, were inserted in Tabqa located some 30 miles west of Raqqa, home to a strategic airfield and dam. The U.S. military announced late last month the Tabqa airfield had been successfully recaptured from ISIS but the battle for the dam remains ongoing.
James R. a sophomore at SLVHS says that, “It’s crazy the things that ISIS is willing to do. This would never stand in England,” and how “England is a much better country than America.”
By Jacinda MacCool
Photo by Jes Aznar