A stretch of highway could soon prove to be the demise of the Islamic State “caliphate.”
History has proven that it is the smallest details which greatly affect the outcome of wars. Even though the ISIS has become a dominant threat, its downfall could be achieved by denying it access to a critical stretch of highway in Iraq.
The ISIS recently lost a key stretch of highway which runs from the group’s Iraq stronghold in Mosul to its enclaves in northeastern Syria, including its self-styled capital, Raqqa, 300 miles away. For quite a few weeks now, the United States military and air force has been waging a series of small-scale battles that may prove to be too much for the ISIS in the long run. However, a major prize obtained in these clashes — a highway that serves as a lifeline for the Islamic State — could prove the most vital in defeating the terrorist faction.
In late January, the ISIS suffered a major setback as Iraqi Kurdish forces seized a key stretch of highway at the town of Kiske, west of Mosul. The stretch is quite important for the Islamic State because they have traditionally used the highway to quickly ferry food, ammunition, and people to the various battlefronts.
Though the Islamic State is still using the highway, it has resorted to detouring onto back roads to get around Kiske. However, these detours are not just expensive, but dangerous as well, said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi researcher who is an expert on the radical group.
“If the Iraqi Kurdish fighters can maintain and expand their hold on the road, the Islamist extremists will be under a kind of siege in the area. It will be very hard for them logistically.”
Experts feel blocking the highway would steadily pressure the Sunni fighters to rely on lengthier and potentially riskier routes to transport people, cash, and weapons. Moreover, the loss of the highway between Mosul and Raqqa would be not just a logistical defeat for Islamic State but a psychological one, said Jessica Lewis McFate, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.
“The integrity of the caliphate — it’s built on continuous military victory. The ‘caliphate’ could lose legitimacy in the eyes of its supporters if it is unable to defend the land it has taken.”
If Islamic State convoys can no longer follow the main highway to Raqqa, which crosses the border at the al-Hasakah district in Syria, they could be forced to travel to the next-closest crossing they control, located at al-Qaim, 260 miles away. However, the coalition forces have been raiding the al-Qaim area.
Denying the highway would mean the Islamic State doesn’t have a continuous stretch of land, explained Hashemi.
“If the fighters in Mosul can’t stay connected to Islamic State territory in Syria, they will lose their claim that they have a state.”
The ISIS has always wanted to destroy the Iraq-Syria border to establish their caliphate. But if they are unable to traverse the regions freely, their “State” can’t come into existence.
[Image Credit | Washington Post, WordPress]