The Islamic State fought Syrian government forces more than any other opponent over the past 12 months, according to new analysis from Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit.
Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, 43 % of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad’s forces, 17 against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40% involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups — in particular, those who formed part of the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield coalition.
“It is an inconvenient reality that any US action taken to weaken the Syrian government will inadvertently benefit the Islamic State and other jihadist groups,” says Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit. “The Syrian government is essentially the anvil to the US-led Coalition’s hammer. While US-backed forces surround Raqqa, the Islamic State is engaged in intense fighting with the Syrian government around Palmyra and in other parts of Homs and Deir al-Zour provinces.”
Any further reduction in the capability of Syria’s already overstretched forces would reduce their ability to prevent the Islamic State from pushing out of the desert into the more heavily populated western Syria, threatening cities like Homs and Damascus, the analysis showed.
“If the Islamic State succeeds in capturing the Syrian government’s isolated and heavily contested garrison in Deir al-Zour, the group would have a new major population centre from which to run the Caliphate,” Strack says. “The capture of Deir al-Zour, the largest city in eastern Syria, could be a life-line for the group’s governance project beyond the loss of Mosul and Raqqa.”
Between 1 January 2015 and 3 April 2017, the Islamic State lost almost 50% of its territory. On 1 January 2015, Conflict Monitor estimated the Islamic State controlled 90 800 km2 in Iraq and Syria. Now, the Islamic State controls 48 500 km2.
“We have seen Islamic State territorial losses accelerate significantly in 2017,” Strack says. “Their losses were largely driven by a greater commitment from the US to back the Syrian Democratic Forces, but also by major Syrian government advances east of Aleppo and around Palmyra.”
Between 1 January 2017 and 3 April 2017, the caliphate’s territory shrank by a further 20% to 48,500 km2. The area they control now is roughly the same size as the Dominican Republic.