This week’s advances of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh) in Iraq and Syria are some of the most successful campaigns for the extremist group since it rampaged into Iraq last summer.
A year ago, violent ISIS militants were attempting to expand their caliphate in Iraq and Syria and preparing to overtake Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.
Here’s how Syria looks compared to last year:
And this map shows the logistical significance of Palmyra:
Iraq isn’t looking any better
ISIS just captured the last border crossing between Syria and Iraq, opening up more possibilities for the mobile militants.
“This is a very big threat to Baghdad. If [ISIS] controls Ramadi and Anbar, it gives them a big morale boost,” Iraqi General Najim Abed al-Jabouri told The Daily Beast. “The road between Syria and Ramadi is open, so they can always send more fighters to Ramadi.”
“It looks like in Anbar it’s open season,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider.
Here’s what Iraq and Syria together look like now:
“Simply put, the Islamic State is, or is on the verge of becoming, what it claims to be, a state,” wrote David Kilcullen, former senior advisor to General David Petraeus.
Two troubling victories
Ramadi is a little more than fifty miles away from Baghdad and grants ISIS a clear route to transport supplies and militants towards the heart of Iraq.
Shortly after the capture of Ramadi, the historical Syrian city of Palmyra fell with its UNESCO World Heritage Site and many valuable artifacts to ISIS.
Schanzer said that ISIS will make a significant amount of it’s money looting historical sites and selling antiquities on the black market.
“They [Syrian forces] wanted to defend this area … they even tried to. But if that’s the best that they can do when they try, then the country is lost,” a government official who fled Palmyra for Damascus told The Guardian.
Meanwhile, Obama met with top national-security advisers earlier this week to review the US strategy in the Middle East. All signs point to it being unlikely that he’ll make any big changes or commit ground troops to the fight.
Pamela Engel and Jeremy Bender contributed to this report.