Officials are loudly trumpeting the idea that, with the fall of al-Qaim in Iraq and Abu Kamal in Syria, ISIS is “defeated,” and has lost their “last” strongholds in both countries. In reality, ISIS fighters have been taking to the desert for weeks on end in both countries.
US officials seem to have been fully aware of this, even as they cheered the “victories” in the war, and US forces are scrambling to set up a series of desert outposts across the remote parts of western Iraq.
The small, report outposts reflect how big of a “front line” the desert is, and how much ground there is to cover in trying to have US troops in the area whenever fighting breaks out. It also means small numbers of US troops in remote areas, which also seems like it makes them ambush targets.
The US presence is likely to ultimately span both sides of the border, with an unknown number of US troops also in the eastern Syrian desert, which is also awash in ISIS forces. With the US also talking up preventing a “Iran to Beirut” string of Shi’ite-held territory, these forces setting up shop in Sunni territory are likely to be setting the stage for clashes against Shi’ite militias as well in the long run.