Note: This article is part of a series. Read part one hereIn 2014, the Syrian Civil War exploded onto the international scene as Iraqi security forces lost control, the Iraqi government scrambling to consolidate power and defend Baghdad. Kurdish forces assumed further autonomy and began a sub-autonomous regional pushback. Guerrilla groups emerged, mostly affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). All the while, Daesh rose and cut a swath of destruction through the region, making it the most successful year of their terror campaign. Daesh deployed a flood of terror on the region, reminiscent of the barbarian hordes in Roman times. They utilized assassinations, bombings, fear, and zealotry, followed up by an ever-growing allotment of troops and captured military technology abandoned by their foes.

Daesh takes advantage of the Syrian Civil War

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Hezbollah, and the al-Abas Brigade focused on quelling rebel forces in the north, made up primarily of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG/YPJ). While these major players exchanged blows, al-Nusra and its Syrian ally, Ahrar al-Sham, initiated pockets of resistance which soon spread into a devastating offensive on what would become Daesh’s capital city, Raqqa. In March of 2013, the Battle of Raqqa began, with FSA rebels storming the city alongside Daesh umbrella groups al-Nusra, Ahrar-al-Sham, and Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, which were attacking under the flag of the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF). What followed was an ugly seven-month power struggle that resulted in the rout of the SAA’s 17th Division, loss of Al-Tabqa Airbase, and the withdrawal of the FSA, ensuring the city of Raqqa would fall completely into Salafi-jihadi hands by August, 2013. These actions ensured a future regional strategic seat of power for a rising Daesh just over the Iraqi border.

As the fires raged in Raqqa, Daesh moved into position in the south and west through their now-fully assimilated branch in Syria, al-Nusra. A freshly invigorated Daesh, empowered by their swift expansion in Al Anbar Province, divorce from al-Qaeda, and their collective gains in cash and equipment seized by the absence of routed Iraqi security forces, overtly moved into Syrian territory and in opposition to all forces in Syria.

RAQQA-map
Location of Raqqa in Syria.

Through al-Nusra, Daesh seized the town of Azaz in October, 2013, and Atme in November, 2013, from the FSA. In November, 2013, Al-Nusra also captured the al-Omar oil fields in Syria, which effectively cut off the Syria government from their remaining oil production facilities, forcing the Syrian government to import oil and cutting off a major source of their income, which also secured additional invasion income and a route through rebel-controlled territory for its fighters to launch a renewed attack on the divided Syrian city of Aleppo.