The Symbolic Victory in Dabiq
Late August, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield, supporting Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in an effort to push back ISIS forces from the Syrian-Turkish border area. Beginning with the town of Jarablus, the Turkish-backed FSA has since liberated a number of towns from ISIS control. Media sources initially gave the operation extensive coverage as it began. However, the continuing catastrophe in Aleppo and the preparations for the operation in Mosul have since overshadowed it.
Over the weekend of the 14th of October, FSA forces recaptured the town of Dabiq from ISIS fighters. In the physical fight to defeat ISIS, Dabiq is not particularly strategically important. There are no crucial roads running through Dabiq, nor any airports or military installations. Symbolically, however, ISIS placed a great deal of religious significance on Dabiq. The organization even named its multi-language online magazine after the town.
ISIS identified Dabiq as the location of a prophesied cataclysmic battle between Christian and Muslim armies. To most people outside of the followers of ISIS, the apocalyptic importance of Dabiq was minimal at most. In the war of ideas against ISIS, the capture of Dabiq is seen as a step towards defeating its ideology and allure. Likely in response to its loss, ISIS has already sought to downplay the loss of the town, suggesting that the actual prophesied battle is yet to occur.
More importantly than the ideological triumph over ISIS though, the capture of Dabiq and the surrounding area is an important step forward for Turkish and FSA goals in northern Syria. Prior to attending the UN General Assembly in New York in September, President Erdogan of Turkey suggested that the Operation Euphrates Shield would be used to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Syria of up to 5,000 square kilometers. Since early in the conflict, Turkey has repeatedly called for the establishment of a safe zone or no fly zone in order to protect Syrian civilians.
On October 17, the Twitter account for Operation Euphrates Shield declared that FSA and Turkish forces were only 20 km away from al-Bab, “a significant target of the operation.” According to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the capture of Dabiq and the other areas on Sunday has eliminated the threat to Turkish territory from ISIS-launched rockets. The capture of Dabiq not only pushed ISIS forces out of striking distance of Turkish territory, but also laid the baseline for the establishment of an FSA-controlled region. It is the latest in a string of successes that the FSA can use to demonstrate that they are a viable force in the fight against ISIS.