The Islamic State lost two key territorial battles Friday, ceding control of the cities of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria and Qaim in western Iraq. The terrorist organization has now lost 96 percent of the territory controlled at the height of its self-proclaimed "Caliphate," The Associated Press reports.
After the fall of Raqqa, Syria, earlier this fall, Deir el-Zour had become "the headquarters of [ISIS] leadership, and in losing it, they lose their capacity to direct terrorist operations" in the area. Qaim was valuable to ISIS because it contains a crossing of the Euphrates River near the Syrian border, a crucial resource for transporting supplies and troops. Bonnie Kristian
Kurdish fighters working with the United States to recapture the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, on Saturday said victory in the besieged city is imminent.
Raqqa "may finally be cleared of the jihadists on Saturday or Sunday," Reuters reports the coalition troops predicted. About 100 ISIS militants have surrendered since Friday, and Kurdish militia representative Nouri Mahmoud said ISIS "is on the verge of being finished."
A U.S. spokesman was more reticent, refusing to "set a time for when we think [ISIS] will be completely defeated in Raqqa," but said the city is 85 percent liberated. A deal has been arranged to evacuate civilians from the city center by bus, which may allow fighting to proceed more quickly. Raqqa has been occupied by ISIS since 2014. Bonnie Kristian
Syrian government troops and U.S.-backed fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are racing to retake Deir el-Zour, one of the last Islamic State strongholds in Syria. Government forces ousted ISIS from an oilfield near the city on Saturday and also took control of a highway some ISIS members have used as a path of retreat. Secretary of Defense James Mattis says "ISIS is now caught in between converging forces."
Deir el-Zour has strategic importance for the regional balance of power between Syria, Russia, and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States and her regional allies on the other. The U.S.-led coalition is urging "all forces to concentrate their efforts on our common enemy," ISIS, but Washington is also focused on preventing the formation of an "Iranian corridor" in Syria linking Tehran and Damascus, both ruled by Shiite governments. Most U.S. allies in the Mideast, notably Saudi Arabia, are rivalrous Sunni powers. Bonnie Kristian
Iraqi state television and Rudaw, the media arm of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, both report that Ayad al-Jumaili, believed to be second-in-command to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed near the Iraq-Syria border.
He was reportedly killed by an Iraqi army strike on a town called al-Qaim, an attack that also killed two other high-ranking ISIS leaders, Turki Jamal al-Delaimi, who led a local ISIS base, and Salim Muthdafar al-Ajami, an administrator.
Israeli forces killed about four militants reportedly allegiant to the Islamic State with an airstrike Sunday in what is believed to be the first direct fight between Israel and ISIS. No Israeli soldiers were killed in the encounter, which occurred in the disputed Golan Heights territory along the Israel-Syria border.
Israeli Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the Israeli troops came under fire from "Shuhada al-Yarmouk, an [ISIS] affiliate," and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel would not allow ISIS "elements or other hostile elements [to] use the cover of the war in Syria to establish themselves next to our borders." Bonnie Kristian
When the Islamic State took over the northern Iraqi town of Qayyara in 2014, the terrorist organization briefly allowed local schools to function as usual. But soon the militants began banning subjects they didn't like — geography, history, civics — and replacing textbooks with tomes of their own making.
The ISIS agenda was evident throughout their curriculum, which transformed schools for boys into recruiting stations. Even a subject as neutral as math was affected, with math problems asking children to imagine counting tools of war in their examples: "One bullet plus two bullets equals how many bullets?"
The good news is that Qayyara has been ISIS-free for three months, ever since the militants were driven out earlier this year as part of the U.S.-supported Iraqi troops' push toward Mosul. Now, schools are getting back to normal — though that will be a long process thanks to a too-small teaching staff and some families' decision to simply pull their children out of class for the duration of the ISIS occupation.
"We are happy to be back at school," an 8-year-old girl named Iman told Reuters. "They wanted us to come but we didn't want to, because we don't know how to study in their language: the language of violence." Bonnie Kristian
As U.S.-supported Iraqi forces press ever closer to Mosul, the last major city controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq, retreating ISIS fighters have taken hostage some 1,500 families and about 300 former Iraqi soldiers.
The terrorist group kidnapped the civilians on its way out of Hammam al-Alil, the final town on Mosul's southern outskirts which coalition forces began retaking on Saturday. "People forcibly moved or abducted, it appears, are either intended to be used as human shields or — depending on their perceived affiliations — killed," said Ravina Shamdasani, representing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The fate of these civilians is unknown for the moment."
ISIS also reportedly conscripted boys as young as 9 from Hammam al-Alil, forcing them to become child soldiers. For more on the Mosul campaign, read the The Week's rundown of everything you need to know. Bonnie Kristian
Syrian forces supported by the United States and led by Kurdish fighters reported Sunday they have begun a campaign to retake Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital city of the Islamic State.
"The general command of the Syria Democratic Forces announces the blessed start of its major military campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa," said Jehan Sheikh Amad, an SDF spokeswoman, at a press conference introducing the operation.
This effort will run in parallel to Iraqi troops' American-supported push to oust ISIS from Mosul, the largest city the terrorist organization still controls in Iraq. The Raqqa operation, called Euphrates Anger, launched with U.S. air support. Civilians still living in Raqqa were encouraged to avoid areas with a heavy ISIS presence. Bonnie Kristian