Islamic State now controls half of Syria
Islamic State fighters routed government forces in the ancient city of Palmyra, taking the city and its ancient ruins and capturing a strategic highway that has severed supply lines to a key eastern city in Syria.
True to form, the terrorists then massacred hundreds of rebllious tribesmen. They are expected to begin demolition of ruins that have stood for more than 2000 years.
Coupled with ISIS capture of Ramadi in Iraq, the capital of Anbar province, and the advance of Islamic State in Libya, recent gains of the terrorists have exposed the massive failure of President Obama's strategy to fight them. Islamic State is advancing on every front despite air strikes by the US and its allies. Training the Iraqi army, which threw away its weapons and fled in terror from Ramadi, as well as training the "moderate" rebels in Syria may eventually lead to favorable results. But it will be years before either force becomes an effective army and in the meantime, ISIS continues to gobble up terroritory.
“There are no forces to stop them [entering the ruins],” Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, said. “But the important thing also is they now control 50% of Syria.”
Isis seized Palmyra on Wednesday night after a week-long siege that led to the collapse of forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The militants are drawing closer to his strongholds of Homs and Damascus and severing supply lines to Deir Ezzor in the east, which faces an overpowering Isis crackdown.
Local activists said Isis had imposed a curfew and was sweeping the city for remnants of Assad’s forces. The group has also massacred members of the Shaitat tribe, which had railed against Isis in Deir Ezzor, a rebellion in which the militant group killed 800 members of the tribe.
Control of Palmyra leaves Isis with unopposed access to the city’s magnificent ruins, amid fears that they will destroy significant chunks of Syria’s heritage as they did in Iraq.
But more significantly, Isis controls vast swaths of Syria, from Palmyra to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the country’s west, a tract that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates to be 95,000 sq km, or more than half Syria’s landmass. With its seizure of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra, it also controls much of the country’s electricity supply – those two fields power much of the Syrian regime’s strongholds in the west.
Isis also controls the vast majority of Raqqa province, its de facto capital, most of Deir Ezzor, parts of Hassakeh and the Aleppo countryside, most of the Syrian desert as well as parts of the Homs countryside and the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus.
The fall of the city raises questions about the fighting capability and cohesion of Assad’s remaining troops and allied militias, whose rapid collapse surprised observers, given their close proximity to supply lines and the strategic importance of Palmyra.
The regime is stretched thin after a string of losses to rebels in Idlib in the north, who are backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but residents had expected Assad’s forces to withstand the siege for longer. Instead, they appear to be retrenching in the country’s west, cutting their losses in the face of advances by Isis and the opposition.
Islamic State is also advancing in Libya, taking control of Qaddaffi's home town of Sirte. But Libya is something of a booby prize given the numerous militias and warlords vying for control.
Meanwhile, the administration is in full denial about the exposure of their failed strategy, insisting that things are going well in Iraq and that recent setbacks will be made right by the Iraqi army before long. Given how Iraqi soldiers have failed at almost every turn to stand up to ISIS fighters in battle, this seems a fool's hope.