After long months of intense combat, so-called Islamic State (IS) looks to be losing its grip on Syria and Iraq. According to defence analysts it has lost a quarter of the territory it once controlled since January 2015.
Winning back some 12, 500 sq.km. of terrain is undoubtedly good news – but it comes with caveats. First, the pace of IS losses has slowed in the three months to October, with just 2,800 sq km (1,080 sq miles) ceded since July.
This slowdown coincides with Russia reducing the number of air strikes against IS targets, confirming the suspicions of security analysts that Russia’s stated intention to fight international terrorism has given way to defending the Assad government in its war against Jihadist groups. Nevertheless, the losses that IS has sustained are still significant, with its forces pushed back from the Turkish border, restricting the group’s ability to recruit new fighters from abroad, while Iraqi forces have secured Qayyarah Airbase, a key strategic facility 60km south of the IS stronghold of Mosul. With the Iraq government’s long-promised and much-delayed offensive against Mosul expected later this month, this would deal a major blow to the extremists.
But all this brings with it a second caveat – that a cornered IS will be increasingly determined to continue its war by other means – particularly by spreading its terror attacks not only into Turkey but also deep into western Europe. These have caused mayhem in major continental cities with outrages such as the bombing attacks in Paris and the horrific lorry slaughter in Nice.
The resolve of Western governments must stay firm, and we should all be aware of the likely costs of a cornered IS.