SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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President Obama long ago articulated very clearly his anti-Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or Da’esh) objective: degrade and destroy it. When it became clear that the November 13 attacks in Paris had been planned in ISIL’s Syria headquarters, it was reasonable to assume that the operational emphasis would shift from degrade to destroy, that the United States would move with dispatch to create a coalition-of-the-willing—top-heavy with regional states—to mount a ground campaign in eastern Syria to close with ISIL and kill it. There has been no such move. Yet the December 1 announcement by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter that an American “Specialized Expeditionary Targeting Force” will be established in Iraq—a force that would “be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria”—keeps the door open for creating a multinational ground combat component capable of shutting down ISIL in Syria.

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Aided by Russian air support, the regime has made substantial progress in Aleppo’s southern countryside, and rural areas surrounding Latakia, dealing a blow to the opposition’s resolve. In one recent battle, seven Russian warplanes flew in formation, in contrast to the regime planes that usually fly solo, and pummeled opposition fighters. Once the planes finished, Assad’s infantry, along with fighters from Shia militias including the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi al-Nujaba, attacked rebels on the ground. Russian and foreign fighter support has enabled the regime to retake more than twenty villages in areas around Aleppo and three key towns on the outskirts of Latakia.

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Once home to a bustling community of Christians, church bells have not tolled in Deir Ezzor for three and a half years. Whether intentionally or collaterally, regime, the Islamic State (ISIS), and the Nusra Front have destroyed Deir Ezzor’s churches. Now, only memories remain of the city’s four churches and those that attended them.

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The terrorist attacks that killed scores in Paris and brought down a passenger plane over the Sinai demonstrate a new ISIS tactic and a surprising degree of capability. The operations have been described as an ISIS reaction to the setbacks it is incurring under international and local military pressure in Syria and Iraq. However, there is little evidence that these are the actions of a beleaguered ‘caliphate,’ and the West’s unenthusiastic reaction gives lie to the statements that these attacks are signs that ISIS made a fatal mistake. To ISIS, the coalition air campaign and the limited local competition are not existential threats, but challenges that necessitate innovation and adaption. And as the past few years have shown, ISIS is nothing if not adaptable. The Paris and Sinai attacks—and the high likelihood of future overseas terrorism successes—only show that ISIS is wickedly inventive, at least when compared to its foreign enemies.

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