The current push in Congress finally to abandon the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and replace it with a more limited and focused authorization for the war against ISIS may be overtaken by events. ISIS (also ISIL, Islamic State, or Daesh) is on its last legs in Syria and Iraq. By the time Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson work out new details with the GOP leadership in the Senate, it may be nothing more than a few remnant terrorism cells not easily addressed by military means. If a new authorization is crafted and passed targeting ISIS alone, it may ironically have the effect of tying the administration’s hands militarily, since ISIS as a so-called “state” is likely soon to be a distant, unpleasant memory.
Ironically, the terrorist state is being rolled up precisely by that Russo-American cooperation that candidate Trump kept touting in places like Syria. Despite the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by Congress this week, which Trump felt constrained to sign, in eastern Syria the Russian air force is acting in tandem with the American against the ISIS threat.
In Iraq, the so-called “caliphate” (never taken seriously by almost any of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world) has lost its only major metropolis, Mosul, and hangs on only in small rural Sunni cities and the rugged northern countryside.
In Syria, ISIS has lost half of its capital, Raqqa, in the eastern Syrian desert, as US-backed leftist Kurds and their allies among local Arab clans have invaded and chipped away at ISIS’s urban real estate.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the core of which is the leftist YPG Kurdish militia, has just completely surrounded the city of Raqqa, closing off the last major escape route for ISIS fighters on its southern perimeter. Supported with air strikes by US and coalition fighter jets, the SDF implemented a pincer movement, with units to the east of the city coming down and around to meet up with units advancing from the west. The Pentagon described the offensive as having achieved secure gains. The campaign to take the city began at the beginning of June. As the last gaps in the SDF line in the south are filled in, it will prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing south to the Euphrates River and escaping. The SDF estimates that 90 percent of Raqqa’s southern neighborhoods have been liberated. The SDF is also now ensconced in the north of the city, having taken 10 square kilometers of additional territory there in the past few days. International humanitarian organizations have expressed concerns over the fate of the estimated 50,000 noncombatants still trapped in the city.
Raqqa the city is the capital of Raqqa the province. In the east of this province and in the next province to the south, Deir al-Zor, a different cast of characters is taking territory away from ISIS. The Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation have given air support to the Syrian Arab Army of Baath leader Bashar al-Assad in the southern Euphrates region. Dozens of air strikes hit ISIS positions in the city of Madan and surrounding hamlets down to Deir al-Zor, southeast of Raqqa city. In essence, the Russians and the Syrian regime are nailing down Raqqa’s eastern and southern flank for the Americans and Kurds, even though in public pronouncements the Damascus regime has complained about Syrian Kurdish expansionism and vowed that these regions will be reincorporated into a united Syria.