July 2, 2017


The Crumbling ISIS Caliphate (David Ignatius, July 02, 2017, Washington Post)

As the battle for Raqqah begins in earnest, this city offers a preview of what's ahead:

-- The black balloon of the ISIS caliphate is deflating quickly in Syria, as in Iraq. There may be up to a year of hard fighting left, but the surprise for U.S. officials is that the battle in eastern Syria is going faster and better than expected. In a symbol of that advance, Kurdish commanders gave McGurk the ring of an ISIS emir who once used it to seal orders to kill Tabqa's inhabitants. The emir blew himself up when he was surrounded in May, leaving behind the ring and its now-empty claim of authority.

-- The confrontation with Syria and Russia that led to the shoot-down of a Syrian fighter jet just south of here two weeks ago seems to have eased, at least for now. Despite the Russians' public protests, they quietly agreed last weekend on a roughly 80-mile "deconfliction" line that stretches from a few miles west of here to a village on the Euphrates called Karama. That line appears to be holding, and it's a promising sign that broader U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria may be possible.

-- The Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces has shown it can defeat ISIS, so long as it's backed by U.S. air power. The Tabqa battle in May was perhaps the most ambitious and daring operation of the war so far. Five hundred SDF soldiers were airlifted across Lake Assad in V-22 Osprey helicopters in a raid that caught ISIS by surprise. The SDF suffered about 100 killed and more than 300 wounded in the bloody operation, but it worked, and in this part of the world, success breeds success. Arab refugees are now streaming toward the Kurdish-led SDF, rather than away, and 8,200 U.S.-trained Arab forces are joining the front lines.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commands U.S. and coalition forces in Syria and Iraq, explains in an interview that the Kurdish military leadership here is "the thickener, the hardener you put on the glue to make it hold."

McGurk repeats at every meeting with local officials that the U.S.'s ability to fix Syria is limited. America can help defeat ISIS, and it can provide quick stabilization support to repair water, electricity and other infrastructure. But it can't do everything.

...illustrates the importance of getting them to cluster.
Posted by at July 2, 2017 12:27 PM