For several months, ISIL has tried to entrench its foothold in Syria and Iraq. After invading large areas, including Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, the militants have been desperately trying to establish permanent control. This has not been easy. They have encountered resistance from various forces and now that resistance is paying dividends with victories on the ground.
Last week, the Iraqi army launched a major offensive to retake Mosul. The city has become a hub for ISIL operations in Iraq and therefore a successful “conquest operation”, as the Iraqi army has dubbed its offensive, will strike an important blow. Beyond recapturing physical territory, any reconquests will send a stark message across the region and the world that ISIL is in retreat.
The same thing is happening in Syria. On Friday, the United States announced that it had killed ISIL’s second-in-command, while the Syrian army declared that it had recaptured parts of the city of Palmyra. The ancient Roman columns of Palmyra have been the backdrop for ISIL propaganda videos for several months, and the extremists have reportedly blown up parts of the city in a twisted attempt to broadcast their power.
The multi-pronged effort to defeat the extremists is now moving in the right direction. Everywhere you look on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, ISIL is suffering devastating setbacks. Its senior leadership is being targeted and removed from the theatre of conflict. The cities that it has occupied are being liberated. But this is a long fight and while these victories are encouraging, we are not at the end of the war.
What is needed is an effective counter-information campaign that highlights ISIL’s dwindling stock across the region. The militants have made no secret of their plans to establish a base in Libya. The international community must use ISIL’s recent string of defeats to strengthen the resolve to continue to root out the militants where they materialise. We have won significant battles but the fight goes on.