Reports are circulating – some of which are traceable to Jihadi sources – that fast advancing Syrian army forces have completed the encirclement of 5,000 ISIS fighters who are trapped in the strategic north Syrian town of Al-Bab.
If true then this begs the major question of whether the Syrian troops who have been advancing on Al-Bab from the south are coordinating with the Turkish troops who together with Turkey’s Jihadi allies have been trying to take Al-Bab from the north.
One of the key reasons why ISIS has survived and grown in strength over the last few years is that conflicts between its ‘enemies’ have always prevented them from working together against it. Indeed some of ISIS’s ‘enemies’ (Turkey for instance) have in the past tried to use the organisation for their own purposes.
If the Syrians and the Turks – backed in this case by the Russians – can be brought to fight ISIS together in Al-Bab, then with 5,000 of its fighters apparently trapped in the town the organisation could be facing its biggest ever military defeat in the Syrian war.
Whether the Syrians and the Turks – for so long enemies in the Syrian war – will however fight ISIS together in Al-Bab, or whether we will instead see a ‘race for Al-Bab’ between the Syrians and the Turks, which could easily play into ISIS’s hands, remains to be seen. The fact that alongside the Turkish troops attacking Al-Bab are several thousand Turkish backed Jihadi fighters who are sworn enemies of the Syrian government can only complicate matters.
That ISIS’s fighters in Al-Bab have let themselves get trapped in the town is a further sign that as the organisation comes under increasing pressure it is abandoning the mobile tactics which have up to now served it so well. Reports from Deir Ezzor speak of another major ISIS attack which was repulsed with heavy losses. It seems that just as in Al-Bab ISIS is now intent on defending territory, so in Deir Ezzor it is now intent on capturing territory, in both cases regardless of cost.
The apparent change in tactics is not easy to explain but it may have psychological reasons or may be the result of the death in battle of the best and most experienced ISIS commanders, with their replacements lacking the flair and flexibility that previously served the organisation so well.
Whatever the reason, there are now reports of ISIS for the first time in the Syrian war suffering from shortages of fighters, and being forced to send administrative and logistical staff from Raqqa to reinforce its fighters on the battlefields.