The Islamic State in Syria

Friday December 21 2018

Syrian children walk along a destroyed street in Raqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group, on February 18, 2018. PHOTO | DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP



Islamic State (IS) jihadists, who in 2014 conquered swathes of territory in Syria, have been wiped out by offensives led by the regime, but also by a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance.

They now hold just a few pockets in the Syrian desert.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria, saying the US-led anti-jihadist coalition had defeated IS.

Below are key dates since the emergence of the group.


Smoke billows after bombings in the Deir Ezzor province, near Hajin, eastern Syria, on December 15, 2018. - Kurdish-led forces seized the Islamic State's main hub of Hajin on December 14, a milestone in a massive and costly US-backed operation to eradicate the jihadists from eastern Syria. PHOTO | DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP


On January 14, 2014, jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seize the northern city of Raqa, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the Turkish border and about halfway between Syria's second city Aleppo and the Iraqi frontier.

In June, ISIL proclaims a "caliphate" led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi across territory the group seized in Syria and Iraq and rebrands itself the Islamic State.

The group takes full control of Raqa province in August.

A US-led military coalition launches its first strikes on Raqa in September, hitting IS targets.


Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters attend the funeral of a fellow fighter, killed in an offensive by the Islamic State (IS) movement against an SDF position near Deir Ezzor, in the northern Syria Kurdish town of Kobane, on November 6, 2018. PHOTO | DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP

In October 2017, a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announces the full recapture of Raqa city, the capital of the eponymous province, after more than four months of fierce fighting.

The battle killed at least 3,250 people, including 1,130 civilians, and displaced tens of thousands of residents, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

The Kurdish city Kobane in northern Syria became a symbol of the fight against IS and is where the jihadists faced their first major defeat.

Backed by US-led air strikes, Kurdish forces drive the jihadists out of the city in January 2015 after more than four months of fighting.


A convoy of US forces armoured vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij. The United States is preparing to withdraw its troops from Syria, US media reported on December 19, 2018, a major move that throws into question America's role in the region. PHOTO | DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP

In August 2016 the SDF recaptures Manbij following a two-month battle.

IS had seized the town -- in Aleppo province, some 100 kilometres from the Turkish border -- in 2014 and used it as a hub for moving jihadists to and from Europe. It also controlled a key IS supply route.

Backed by the Turkish tanks and air force the SDF then retakes Jarabulus.

In October, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish warplanes and artillery capture Dabiq.


A displaced Syrian woman and a boy stand outside a basement in the city of al-Bab in the northern Aleppo province on the border with Turkey, on December 7, 2018. PHOTO | NAZEER AL-KHATIB | AFP

Under IS control since August 2014, Dabiq has ideological significance because of a prophecy that Christian and Muslim forces will battle there at the end of times.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels say in February 2017 that they have taken full control of the northern town of Al-Bab, the last IS bastion in Aleppo province, after three months of deadly fighting.

Syrian troops backed by Russian jets recapture the ancient desert town of Palmyra from IS in March 2017.

The oasis city had traded hands several times during the war and becomes a symbol of the jihadists' destruction of priceless cultural heritage in areas under their control.


Members of the Revolutionary Youth Union, the youth organisation of the Arab Socialist Baath Party in Syria, take photos from the rooftop of a destroyed building during a flag raising ceremony at the entrance of the Hajar al-Aswad neighbourhood on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on May 24, 2018, after the regime seized the Yarmuk Palestinian camp and adjacent neighbourhoods. PHOTO | LOUAI BESHARA | AFP

In May 2018 Syria's army says it is in complete control of Damascus and its outskirts for the first time since 2012, after ousting IS jihadists from the capital's south, including the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk.

On November 17 regime forces retake the southern area of Tulul al-Safa as the jihadists pull back into the desert after months of fighting.

In October 2017, regime forces retake Mayadeen in the oil-rich eastern Deir Ezzor province.

In November, Syria's army backed by Russian and Iranian forces expels IS from Deir Ezzor city and Albu Kamal, the last town in Syria still held by IS on the Iraqi border.


Displaced Syrian children play at the IDP camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on December 17, 2018. PHOTO | DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP

In early May the SDF says it is launching the final stage of its battle to expel IS from desert holdouts in the province.

In late October the SDF is forced to retreat after deadly IS counterattacks. The alliance then announces a temporary halt to the offensive after the Turkish army shells Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

Ten days later the SDF resumes operations in Deir Ezzor. On December 14, the Arab-Kurdish alliance drives IS from Hajin near the Iraqi border, confining the jihadists to the towns of Sousa and Al-Shaafa.

They also retain a presence in the vast Badia desert, a front that is managed by Russia-backed regime forces.