ISIL rallies with advances in Syria, Iraq and Libya

by WorldTribune Staff, June 24, 2016

After suffering losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya, Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has launched counteroffensives that have pushed back government and U.S.-backed forces in all three countries.

In Syria, ISIL jihadists dealt an embarrassing setback to the government army near the terror group’s de facto capital of Raqqa with a swift counter-punch that rolled back incremental gains by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Iraqi counterterrorism forces face off with Islamic State militants in the Nuaimiya neighborhood of Fallujah. /AP
Iraqi forces face off with ISIL jihadists in the Nuaimiya neighborhood of Fallujah. /AP

In Iraq, pockets of jihadists in the north and west of Fallujah continued to hold off elite Iraqi special forces this week, preventing them from advancing even as Iraq’s leaders claimed the city to be 80 percent liberated.

In Libya, forces loyal to the UN-backed unity government were stunned by ISIL’s counterattack in Sirte, with 36 Libyan troops killed in a series of street battles, a spokesman for a nearby hospital said.

While U.S. President Barack Obama and some administration officials have played up military gains against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, other U.S. officials and outside experts warn that the U.S.-backed air and ground campaign is far from defeating the terror organization.

A recent report said that “while Daesh’s defeats in Iraq and Syria have erased its image of invincibility, they threaten to give it greater legitimacy in the eyes of disaffected Sunni Muslims because Shi’ite and Kurdish fighters are a major part of the campaign, some U.S. intelligence officials argue.”

In Syria’s Raqqa province, ISIL recaptured areas from government forces on June 21 that the terror group had lost just days earlier. ISIL also drove Syrian troops out of an oilfield in Thawra and stopped a Syrian advance on the Tabqa air base, which would have opened a direct line for troops to the city of Raqqa, reports say.

The commander of an elite, pro-Assad militia known as the Desert Hawks explained the government’s rapid withdrawal from large parts of Raqqa province: “It is vital to understand that (ISIL) adopted new tactics to fight the Desert Hawks in this area,” retired Gen. Mohamad Jaber said on his Facebook page, adding that the jihadists were sending explosives-laden vehicles at the pro-government line, and he predicted the battle for Tabqa would be “harsh and mighty.”

The advance of Iraqi troops in Fallujah has been slowed not only by ISIL’s pockets of remaining fighters, but a large number of homemade bombs planted around the city. Teams specializing in defusing the explosives are in short supply and have been mostly deployed to help troops on the front lines.

In Libya, unity government-backed militias, mainly from the western town of Misrata, have been slowed in Sirte by a series of ISIL suicide bombings. Along with the 36 militiamen killed, mostly in direct gun battles, about 140 were wounded, said Misrata hospital spokesman Abdel-Aziz Essa.

ISIL jihadists are said to be hunkered down at their headquarters in the sprawling Ouagadougou convention center built by the late dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Sirte was Gadhafi’s birthplace.

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