by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Oct 5, 2017
The Islamic State group has lost swathes of territory in its self-declared "caliphate" in recent months, including its emblematic Iraq stronghold Mosul and most of its Syrian bastion Raqa.
On Thursday, Iraqi forces recaptured the northern town of Hawija, the centre of one of IS's last two remaining enclaves in the country.
The jihadists are also facing parallel Russian- and US-backed offensives in Syria. Here are the main battlefronts:
- IRAQ -
HAWIJA: On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the recapture of the northern town of Hawija, the centre of one of the jihadists' last two remaining enclaves in the country.
"Only the outskirts remain to be recaptured," he said.
The government launched the offensive against the enclave on September 21 and swiftly retook several neighbouring Sunni Arab towns.
The pocket was bypassed by government troops in their push north to Mosul which culminated in the second city's recapture in July.
Hawija had been a bastion of insurgency since the early months after the US-led invasion of 2003 and earned the nickname of "Kandahar in Iraq" from coalition troops for the ferocious resistance it put up similar to that in the Taliban militia's bastion in Afghanistan.
EUPHRATES VALLEY: IS controls one other pocket of territory in Iraq, a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.
On September 19, Iraqi forces backed by paramilitary units and coalition warplanes launched a push up the valley.
After retaking the town of Anna last week, they are expected to target Rawa and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the Syrian border and IS-held territory beyond.
- SYRIA -
RAQA: The city was once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-declared "caliphate".
But the jihadists are now breathing their "last gasps" in a pocket of the city, a senior commander of the US-led coalition against IS told AFP last week.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, IS has lost around 90 percent of the city to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters worked for months to encircle Raqa, which had become a byword for the worst of IS's atrocities during its years under jihadist rule.
In June, the SDF broke into the city for the first time but the battle slowed down when they reached the more densely populated city centre.
Its advance has been assisted by heavy US-led air strikes that have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.
The United Nations estimates that up to 15,000 civilians could remain in parts of Raqa, facing "incredibly difficult conditions".
DEIR EZZOR: IS's other main stronghold in Syria is the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders IS-held territory in Iraq.
Two separate offensives are under way against the jihadists there -- one by the SDF, the other by government forces supported by Russia.
Regime troops advanced across the desert from the west to relieve two besieged garrisons in the city of Deir Ezzor, down the Euphrates Valley from Raqa.
The army now controls around 75 percent of the city and is battling to oust IS from the remainder, said the Observatory.
IS hit back last week with attacks on government forces around Deir Ezzor and on their supply lines through the desert, killing dozens of troops and militiamen.
SDF fighters meanwhile have captured more than 500 square kilometres (190 square miles) of territory in northeastern parts of the province, according to the US-led coalition.
They advanced from the north to attack IS on the east bank of the Euphrates.
IS also holds dwindling pockets of territory elsewhere. On Wednesday, Russian-backed government troops pushed it out of its last foothold in Hama province. But it still has a presence in neighbouring Homs province, where it launched a counterattack on the town of Al-Qaryatain on Sunday.
The jihadists are present in smaller numbers in the Yarmuk camp in south Damascus and a group allied with IS has a scattered presence in southern parts of Syria.
The Hague (AFP) Oct 4, 2017
Sarin nerve agent was used in an 'incident' at a northern Syrian village in late March, five days before the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhun, the world's chemical watchdog said Wednesday. "Analysis of samples collected (by the OPCW)... relates to an incident that took place again in the northern part of Syria on the 30th of March this year," the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of ... read more
The Long War - Doctrine and Application
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