The Current State Of ISIS As Its End Draws Near
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump tweeted on Saturday that, quote, "the caliphate is ready to fall." He was referring to the Islamic State. ISIS has lost control of almost all of its territory after a long military campaign led by the U.S. and allies. The group once ruled large parts of Iraq and Syria. Now its last stronghold is a patch of land in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, just a few hundred yards wide.
Local commanders of U.S.-backed forces say they are just hours or days away from controlling that area. The AP's Sarah El Deeb is on the frontlines of this fight, and she joins us now. Hello, there.
SARAH EL DEEB: Hi.
SHAPIRO: Give us a sense of what this last stronghold looks like. This group used to control huge cities, Raqqa, Mosul. What is the area like where they are now?
DEEB: It's basically a small stretch of flat land on the banks of the Euphrates Rivers. It's a collection of tents and then a few small homes, some green grass and palm trees. But it's really a very small area where we're told about a thousand people are crowded in.
SHAPIRO: And so what does the final stage of this fight look like?
DEEB: Well, I've been here for about eight days, and it's been a period of an easy standoff. We haven't exactly seen any clashes or fighting. We've seen airstrikes - not very intense. We've heard gunfire, but we haven't seen any massive battle.
I think that what we understand from the officials here is that the group is mostly sick and running out of ammunition and supply, but also standing steadfast. They don't want to surrender. They've also taken hostages, a bunch of civilians.
There is hope, from what we hear, is that they will be able to get the civilians out and also get some of the potentially leaders of the group that are still holed up in this small speck of land.
SHAPIRO: So what is the final end game that U.S.-backed forces are hoping to see play out here? How do they want to see this conclude?
DEEB: What we saw today is that they basically sent a bunch of trucks to the tip of the small enclave, trying to evacuate a small number of people that are said to have surrendered overnight or in the last few hours.
But I think what they want is that they want the remaining militants, who are believed to be 300 maybe, to - to surrender, to get themselves in. They have also said that they can't wait for an indefinite period. But I think they're holding on to see if they can minimize the damage in this last batch.
SHAPIRO: You and I are both describing this as the final battle. Once this fight is over, will ISIS in fact be defeated?
DEEB: Interesting question - very difficult one to answer. I think as we see the group is losing its territory, we also see a lot of attacks and sleeper-cell action going on in Syria and Iraq almost daily - on a daily basis by people that are believed to be affiliated with the group.
We've also seen their attacks in Egypt, in Libya, in the Philippines. We know that they continue to produce material online, and they try to recruit people. So I think the territory is probably finished, but I don't think the group is yet over or its ideology has been eradicated.
SHAPIRO: Sarah El Deeb is an AP reporter based in Beirut speaking with us today from eastern Syria, a few miles from the Iraqi border. Thank you so much.
DEEB: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.