National Security

ISIS Prepares To Retreat To Its Desert Fortress After Capital Cities Fall

REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Islamic State leaders are preparing to retreat to their fortress in the desert border regions between Syria and Iraq pending the loss of the group’s capital cities in both countries.

U.S.-backed Operation Inherent resolve forces are in the midst of retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second city and ISIS’s de facto Iraqi capital. Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are besieging Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. The pending loss of both cities has forced ISIS to resort to a backup plan: a coordinated retreat to the Iraqi-Syrian border region, known as Wilayat al-Furat, or Euphrates province.


ISIS is referring to the plan as the “retreat into the desert.” Leaders warned of a pending time of difficulty for the terrorist group.

[dcquiz] “[ISIS’s] propaganda over the last year, particularly a speech in May by Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), the caliph’s deputy and the organization’s official spokesman who was killed in August, has been preparing IS supporters for a time of hardship,” said Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, in a blog post Friday. “But this messaging has also emphasized that the coming travails will purify the flock, exposing those who are not truly committed to the cause, and open the way to a glory that is pre-ordained by god.”

Euphrates province is useful to ISIS given its strategic location between Iraq and Syria. Terror analyst Hassan Hassan wrote in his recent book, “ISIS: Inside The Army of Terror,” that the remote nature of the province makes it an ideal potential hideout for ISIS leadership. Shoring-up the province allows the group to engage in terrorist activities in both countries in the future. It is believed ISIS may revert back to traditional terrorism once it loses its so-called caliphate.

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