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.

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.

Sensing the changing climate of their alliance and the growing threat from Daesh in Iraq, the FSA, along with the Kurdish forces loyal to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD, the Syrian PKK), the Mujahedeen Army of Aleppo (MAA), and the remaining SIF forces loyal to the FSA, launched a January, 2014 offensive on Salafi-jihadi forces throughout Syria, hoping to oust the threat before they could consolidate their wins under Daesh.

Initially successful, the unlikely confederation ousted Salafi-jihadi forces from Aleppo, Raqqa, and those cities’ suburbs. In surprising support of the offensive, Turkish air strikes supported the confederation in Aleppo, ensuring the complete removal of forces loyal to Daesh from the city, as well as the FSA assassination of Samir al-Khlifawi, AKA Haji Bakr, a senior Daesh military commander noted for his tactical successes in Iraq.

Daesh fought back and recaptured all of Raqqa, but their offensive failed in Aleppo. In February, 2014, Daesh took another hit; al-Nusra, which Daesh had raised as its Syrian branch, rebelled in response the Daesh divorce from al-Qaeda. Al-Nusra, now in alliance with the FSA, sprang a surprise attack on Daesh, forcing them completely out of Deir ez-Zor Province in Syria. March brought further losses for Daesh in Syria; these losses were compounded by the movement’s sudden political isolation and the fact that they were now a target of nearly every other faction in Syria. A forced retreat was in effect across Syria as Daesh sought to consolidate its forces in Raqqa. As Daesh ran to Raqqa, the factions across Syria began to once again focus on fighting the Assad government.

Water as a weapon was employed on a massive scale by Daesh in April against the citizens of Iraq; they closed the flood gates of the Nuaimiyah Dam in Fallujah. As a result, floods wreaked havoc from Abu Ghraib to Baghdad, destroying the homes of 12,000 and effectively placing the predominately Shi’ite population of southern Iraq in a state of drought. Babil, Karbala, Nasiriyah, and Najaf were effectively cut off from water and electricity. Targeted water attacks continue to be a hallmark of Daesh’s strategy.