The tide is beginning to turn on the Islamic State group, analysts say, with the jihadists losing ground in Iraq and only able to hold on to their positions in Syria.
Harassed by air strikes and facing better coordination among their opponents, IS fighters have suffered a string of defeats in Iraq and had to retreat from some areas they had conquered in June and the following months.
In November alone, the jihadists pulled back from the key battleground of Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad, lost the northern town of Baiji and lifted their siege of a nearby refinery.
In the east, they were also ousted from one of the country’s largest dams in Adhaim and two towns near the border with Iran.
In Kobani, a Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey, weeks of fighting and suicide attacks have cost IS dear in manpower and failed to break the defences of Kurdish fighters. “The anti-IS war effort is beginning to show more concrete results across a diverse set of battlefields,” said Ayham Kamel, an analyst with the Eurasia Group.
Foreign jets and drones strike jihadist targets in Iraq and Syria dozens of times a week, smashing IS equipment and safe houses and disrupting its movements and command structure. The jihadist group and its supporters deny that momentum is swinging, but a string of defeats, or at least thwarted assaults, suggest IS’s military aura is fading.
The jihadists had thrived in Iraq’s grey areas claimed by both the government and the autonomous Kurds, but a thaw in relations has led to better coordination and energised the anti-IS fightback. Saadiyah and Jalawla are two towns in such areas, and their recapture last week confirmed that the eastern borders of IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” had begun to roll back.