Is ISIS regaining power in Syria? Yes and no – here’s how

In some areas of Syria the presence of ISIS is in a certain state of decline, however, in other areas of Syria, the terrorist group quite obviously seems to be regaining strength. What defines these two areas? The answer to that is the Euphrates River, which current separates Syrian government forces and those of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Whilst ISIS territorial control in Syria changed only mildly during 2016, the year of 2017 saw ISIS suffer a series of major military defeats across the country resulting in high casualties and big territorial losses.The two belligerents – the Syrian Army and the US-backed SDF – responsible for delivering this blow to the terrorist group met at the Euphrates.

2018 has shown that a de facto agreement has been reached whereby the Syrian Army and its allies are responsible for military operations west of the Euphrates, whilst the SDF is responsible for any operations east of the river – however, only one side has met its obligations in this regard.

Following its Deir ez-Zour campaign, the Syrian Army, backed by Russia, launched a series of major operations against ISIS aimed at destroying the jihadist militia’s remaining strongholds west of the Euphrates.

A number of Syrian Army operations throughout 2018 in southern Damascus, the Yarmouk Basin, eastern Homs and Al-Safa has seen more areas liberated from ISIS to the point where the terrorist group has virtually ceased to exist as a standing force west of the Euphrates. It is also worth mentioning that well over 1,000 terrorists belonging to the jihadist militia died during the course of these campaigns.

On the other side of the Euphrates, the scenario could not be more opposite. Here 2018 saw the SDF lose its offensive momentum along the eastern shore of the Euphrates, first stalemating with ISIS and then effectively handing back the strategic initiative to the terrorist group.

A summer offensive aimed at first clearing Syria’s far eastern desert region (which ISIS virtually abandoned) went well and the capture of several Euphrates villages opposite the Iraq border was promising.

However by this point it was already too late, with the approach of winter, a recovered ISIS force launched a series of counter-offensives, driving back the SDF from all its 2018 gains along the Euphrates and decimating its ranks through far reaching shock raids against isolated desert bases near the Al-Omar oil fields. In particular, the latter attacks wiped out entire SDF platoons at a time. This all happened despite the presence of US airpower.

Read More : MAP: Syrian Army fully liberates Al-Safa area from ISIS

In addition to these conventional attacks, ISIS has launched suicide bombing attacks against positions and convoys deep inside SDF-held territory along the Euphrates and Khabur rivers and carried out successful assassinations against high-ranking SDF commanders as far north as Raqqa.

With all this in mind, it can be said that whilst 2019 will witness a relatively ISIS-free situation west of the Euphrates (one that will only continue to improve), the same can not be said of the situation east of the river – here 2019 remains an uncertain time for not only has the terrorist group managed to survive, but it in fact appears to be regaining strength.

The views of this author do not necessarily reflect the views of Muraselon News