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Shrinking ISIL at its Core


A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa. (File)

ISIL's expansion is not inevitable, as it claims.

One of the key propaganda points ISIL uses to cozen converts to its cause is to claim that its so-called caliphate’s expansion is inevitable. But recent ISIL set-backs in Iraq and in northeastern Syria, particularly in and near the strategically significant town of al-Shadadi, once again expose the hollowness of that claim.

In the last few days, local Syrian defense forces, supported by the U.S.-led coalition, have reclaimed territory in an area that was a critical ISIL base, and have continued to liberate the population from ISIL’s grip.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, “By encircling and taking this town, we’re seeking to sever the last major northern artery between Raqqa and Mosul, and ultimately dissect the parent tumor into two parts, one in Iraq and the other in Syria.”

Thousands of local fighters were involved in the effort to drive out ISIL from al-Shadadi, said Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. They included Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Christians. Mr. McGurk used a metaphor to describe this saying, “There’s a lot of different groups that are kinds of shards of wood that want to fight ISIL; it’s our job to try to pull them together not just in bundle but in a bat. And what you have going now towards Shaddadi is a baseball bat.”

In a recent address, President Barack Obama emphasized that the fight against ISIL remains difficult and complex. But he noted that efforts to squeeze ISIL’s core in Syria and Iraq have borne fruit. With the help of coalition training, equipment and support, ISIL has now lost a series of key Iraqi town and cities – more than 40% of what it once controlled in Iraq, including the city of Ramadi. Its leaders have been killed; its oil infrastructure has been targeted in air strikes, leading to a significant reduction in ISIL’s oil production; its cash storage sites have been destroyed, resulting in the slashing of salaries for ISIL fighters. Since the summer, ISIL has not had a single successful major offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq.

“In the end, the brutality of ISIL is no match for the yearning of millions who want to live in security and dignity,” said President Obama. “With allies and partners and the service of our dedicated personnel…we will destroy this barbaric terrorist organization and continue to stand with people across the region who seek a better and a safer future.”

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