U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Defeat Of ISIS 'Caliphate' The U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces say they have defeated ISIS in the town of Baghouz, ISIS' last remaining territory.
NPR logo

U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Defeat Of ISIS 'Caliphate'

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/706147761/706147762" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Defeat Of ISIS 'Caliphate'

U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Defeat Of ISIS 'Caliphate'

U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Defeat Of ISIS 'Caliphate'

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/706147761/706147762" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces say they have defeated ISIS in the town of Baghouz, ISIS' last remaining territory.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

U.S.-backed Syrian defense forces announced today they have defeated ISIS holdouts in the town of Baghouz, the last piece of territory held by ISIS. This announcement comes after the Trump administration made a similar claim yesterday. Joining us now from Beirut is NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Ruth, thanks so much for being with us.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: What does this apparent defeat of ISIS in that town north - in the north of eastern Syria mean?

SHERLOCK: Well, it marks the end of the so-called ISIS caliphate, the state that they'd been trying to make. You know, this was declared back in 2014. And just to remind everyone, this used to control swaths of Iraq and Syria. At their height, the group ruled over about 8 million people, and they attracted tens of thousands of foreigners. Many people from the West joined them. And this rule was violent. You know, they killed opponents. There were public beheadings. They killed some Western journalists and used their grim videos as propaganda. And they captured thousands of women and children from Iraq's Yazidi minority, too, forced them into slavery. Well, so today, all that is over, and the U.S.-backed SDF is saying that they've taken all of the group's territory. There are still some reports of some sporadic gun battles, but they say this is just rooting out sleeper cells.

SIMON: And it's been a costly fight over the past 4 1/2 years, hasn't it?

SHERLOCK: Extremely so. There's - thousands of Iraqis and Kurdish people have died fighting ISIS. And the cost for civilians is huge, as well. You know, whole cities in Iraq and Syria have been destroyed. And thousands of civilians have been killed, and their livelihoods are destroyed.

So it's going to take billions of dollars to rebuild this area. And while the U.S. initially promised to help with this, those efforts have been cut back. And, now, there's, like, paltry funding for that.

SIMON: Does the end of ISIS's territorial control, the caliphate, mean the end of ISIS?

SHERLOCK: It really does not. U.S. defense officials, including General Joseph Votel, you know, who oversees the fight against ISIS - he says the leaders have dispersed and gone to ground. And the defeat in Baghouz is really a strategic move by ISIS to preserve their capabilities. So while many thousands of fighters remain dispersed across Iraq and Syria - and the group has these footholds still, in Libya and Afghanistan, Yemen and the Philippines. So, you know, the real difference here is between the - you know, bombing a territory and trying to defeat an ideology.

Here, the group still has a lot of support. Its roots go all the way back to the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. And, you know, the difficulty is that thousands of people that left that area still support ISIS. And now they're living in areas that are decimated by war. And the group's ideology kind of has a chance still to grow here. So they're already waging these low-level insurgencies. So I think this is not the last we're going to hear.

SIMON: And this would end without, in a sense, the burden of having to control territory. They might be able to range as what we used to call guerrilla warriors.

SHERLOCK: Absolutely.

SIMON: NPR's Ruth Sherlock - thanks very much - speaking with us this morning. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.