Columns Opinion

Now not the time to ease off fight against Islamic State

The Islamic State group has recently come to dominate the attention of the news media and the presidential administration. The United States has provided support and finances to help quell the power of the Islamic State, and the military operation in Raqqa, Syria did just that. There’s more to this story than just U.S.-backed victory, though. 

This is just another repeated tale of US interference in the Middle East, but this time we have the chance to stand in solidarity with the refugees and victims.

ISIS’s self-declared capital was Raqqa. For three years, the group’s occupation of this Syrian city demonstrated the symbolic burden its citizens have borne. U.S.-backed troops announced victory against ISIS on Tuesday, declaring they had recaptured the city.

The U.S.-backed military group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, noted that up to 90 percent of Raqqa is under its control. After four months of bleak fighting, the city is on the verge of liberation. The fight came at the cost of 270,000 displaced people and thousands of lost homes.  

The prospect of returning is controversial for many displaced Syrians, varying from those who capitulated their homes and security when the siege began to those who clung to notions of nostalgia and former splendor. This familiar situation will soon produce an exodus of refugees with no where to turn.

Raqqa, riddled with booby traps and unknowable amounts of unexploded ordnance, remains precarious. Mohammad Ahmed Saleh, a local doctor, referred to the remains as a “new Hiroshima.” This anticipation of destruction encapsulates the need for foreign aide in this city.

The decree of victory is complex. U.S. involvement means this circumstance is being handled with the utmost sensitivity. In fact, the U.S. Central Command cannot announce complete triumph until the state is completely rid of all ISIS supporters or suicide bombers. The uncertainty of when the city will truly be safe will take quite a toll on its inhabitants.

The scene of Syrian citizens celebrating in the streets uplifts by epitomizing optimism for the region. But the city’s condition is a harsh reminder of reality. While the military operation was successful, it raises the question of the legitimacy of American intervention.

The infrastructure and the former grandeur of Raqqa have been entirely demolished by airstrikes as well as a four-month offensive. The United Nations estimates about 300,000 people fled the city for their safety. 

Nothing embodies this destruction quite as hauntingly as the fountain named Naem, or paradise, in the center of the city. Just a few years ago, children cried with delight as they splashed in the fountain while the bustle of vendors and aromas of a city indulgent in its own beauty and culture could be heard.

Naem is now desolate, coated in layers of dust and artillery shells and guarded by the bombed-out skeletons of buildings. It no longer holds the glory of its namesake.

Within a span of a few short months, ISIS lost its second major bastion of support. The group was expelled from Mosul, Iraq’s third most-populated city, in July. The loss of another headquarters must have come as a heavy blow to the terrorist organization.

Hopefully this brings the international community one step closer to ending the group’s reign and its horrific treatment of the citizens and city, including merciless punishments like executions for crimes as petty as smoking.

Syria is in a terribly vulnerable state. The removal of ISIS would create a power vacuum much like the one that allowed for the group’s rise. The victorious group, the SDF, is comprised of Arabs and Kurds, who already have a tense and precarious relationship.

The U.S. cannot withdraw now that the fighting has ceased, because that would allow for another feudal government in Syria. We have an obligation, as the Earth’s watchdog, to provide stability for the nation in these shaky times. 

Havoc and destruction are not new inhabitants in Raqqa but rather unpleasant guests prone to recur. This proclamation embodies the incompatible notion that victory can be celebrated while a city lies in ruins.

Success hardly carries its proverbial glory when it’s at the expense of 1,000 civilian casualties. Reclaiming the city is the first step in a journey that Syria will undoubtedly need support in.

Senior staff columnist Anusheh Siddique is a political science freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment