ISIS Is Building Getaway Command Bunkers in Case of Defeat in Syria and Iraq
It is clear that the Islamist State is being squeezed on all fronts. In Iraq, the battle of Fallujah is raging leaving the terrorists with the last resort of a fierce, devastating onslaught on the attackers before all its fighters are killed. After Fallujah, the battle for Mosul, a final grueling ordeal, will be the last remaining major offensive to be fought before victory over ISIS in Iraq can be declared.
In Syria, the key town of Manbij is within reach of the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces-SDF although this force has only small arms. Assad’s Desert Hawks-DH forces, led by Mohammed Jaber and trained by Russia, are moreover advancing to cut the Raqqa-Aleppo road, while another SDF force is on the march from Ain Issa on the last lap to the ISIS center at Raqqa.
The American backers of the SDF and the Russian sponsors of the Desert Hawks are in close coordination over the timeline for their proxies’ assault on the capital of the Islamic State. They expect to ultimately wipe out the Islamist terror organization in central and northern Syria.
ISIS would still be left with strategic assets – broad areas in the Deir a-Zor region of eastern Syria and, in particular control over the Euphrates River that runs from Syria into western Iraq. But its enduring grip there is subject to two factors: the outcome of the ongoing battle for Fallujah, which is the capital of the western Iraqi Anbar province, and the willingness of Washington and Moscow to assign special operations forces to this front.
The terrain in this area is harsh. It would take elite troops backed by a flock of assault helicopters and amphibian capabilities to fight their way through thousands of deep water channels and dense reeds.
But meanwhile the battle for Fallujah is at a stalemate, and the two powers have not yet decided to post special operations forces to eastern Syria.
Therefore, even if Fallujah does eventually fall to the combined US-Iranian-Iraqi siege force, ISIS can be confident of hanging onto its eastern Syrian and western Iraqi assets – at least until end of winter 2017.
Nonetheless, DEBKA Weekly military and intelligence sources report, the Islamist high command is starting to regroup in readiness for the possibility of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq being cut off by siege, and ISIS rulers no longer able to run the war and administer the caliphate from these two centers.
There are already signs of building underway of a complex of command centers and tunnels at various locations in central and eastern Iraq. ISIS leaders appear to be getting set to continue the war from getaway locations.
They have taken to heart the lessons learnt from the US war on Iraq. Whereas Iraq’s President Sadam Hussein in 2003, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the al-Qaida leader in Iraq in 2003-2007, were bent on their personal survival and died, ISIS’s emphasis ten years later is on ways and means to keep their jihad going.
Still, no one can tell for sure how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his close circle will behave when they face defeat. Will they stick it out and continue fighting or make a run for it?
Just as important is the question of whether al-Baghdadi will retain Saddam’s former Iraqi generals who gave ISIS stunning military successes for two years, or send them packing after the potential comedown?
Meanwhile there are no signs of any parting of the ways.