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Islamic State jihadists sliding from defeat to defeat

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces gesture the ‘V’ sign in Raqqa October 17, 2017. — Reuters picFighters of Syrian Democratic Forces gesture the ‘V’ sign in Raqqa October 17, 2017. — Reuters picBEIRUT, Oct 17 — The Islamic State group seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, but its self-declared caliphate has now been crushed and it has lost its de facto Syrian capital Raqqa. 

Here are some of the major defeats IS has suffered as it faced offensives on multiple fronts in its ferocious battle for survival.

Syria

Kobane: The Kurdish town in northern Syria became an early symbol of the fight against IS when the jihadists were driven out by US-backed Kurdish forces in January 2015 after a battle of more than four months.

Palmyra: This ancient desert city was seized by IS in May 2015 when the jihadists blew up Unesco-listed Roman-era temples and looted ancient relics.

Syrian regime forces backed by allied militia and Russian warplanes ousted them in March 2016, but the extremists won back control by the end of that year before being expelled a second time in March 2017.

Manbij: IS seized this strategic town near the border with Turkey in 2014 and used it as a hub for moving jihadists and supplies to and from Europe.

It was recaptured in August 2016 after a two-month battle led by a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by US air strikes.

Dabiq: Syrian rebels supported by Turkish warplanes and artillery captured Dabiq in October 2016. Under IS control since August 2014, the fight for the city was significant because of a prophecy that Christian and Muslim forces will battle there at the end of time.

Raqqa: A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters launched an operation to capture Raqqa in November 2016. The battle for Raqqa saw months of brutal urban warfare that levelled parts of the city as jets from a US-led coalition pounded the jihadists’ dwindling foothold. 

On October 17, 2017, the US-backed force announced it had “taken full control of Raqqa” after storming the final few IS holdouts. 

Deir Ezzor: In early September 2017, Russian-backed Syrian forces broke a three-year IS siege of a government enclave in this eastern city before ousting the jihadists from much of the rest of it.

Regime forces have simultaneously pushed down the Euphrates valley towards the Iraqi border. On October 14, they captured the IS-held town of Mayadeen, some 45 kilometres (30 miles) downstream.   

Hama/Homs: Government forces supported by Russian jets also pushed IS out of its last toehold in Hama province in early October. But the group still has a presence in neighbouring Homs province, where it has looked to stage a counterattack.

Iraq

Tikrit: The hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, north of Baghdad, fell to IS in June 2014. It was retaken in March 2015 by Iraqi troops, police and Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces.

Sinjar: Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes captured this northwestern town in November 2015, a year after the jihadists overran it killing or abducting into sex slavery thousands of its Yazidi Kurdish residents.

Ramadi/Fallujah: The capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, Ramadi was declared fully recaptured in February 2016. Neighbouring Fallujah, the first Iraqi city seized by jihadists in January 2014, was retaken in June 2016.

Qayyarah: Iraqi forces backed by coalition aircraft retook Qayyarah in August 2016, providing Baghdad with a platform to move on Mosul, the country’s second city 60 kilometres (40 miles) away.

Mosul: Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul on July 9 this year after a nine-month offensive that a senior US commander called “the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II”.

Tal Afar: The last major IS urban stronghold in northern Iraq was declared “liberated” on August 31.

Hawija: Iraqi forces backed by paramilitaries and US air power claimed the recapture of this besieged IS enclave on October 5 after a two-week offensive.

Euphrates Valley: Iraqi forces have also pushed up the Euphrates river to dislodge IS from a stretch adjoining the Syrian border in what the US has billed as the “final large fight” against the jihadists in the country. 

After the recapture of the town of Anna, some 2,000 IS fighters are believed to be cornered in an area including the towns of Rawa and Al-Qaim. — AFP

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