The thing about ragtag groups of militants that display a penchant for extreme violence is that in the absence of serious opposition, they can rack up gains at an alarming pace.
Of course there are plenty of (possibly credible) theories out there, which suggest that some of what you see in the videos released by ISIS is for show and we won’t endeavor to assess the degree to which the group’s brutality is real versus staged, but one thing is clear: regardless of who is funding, training, and/or supporting them, there are obviously fighters on the ground in the Mid-East waving the ISIS flag and committing atrocities in its name.
That works well when it comes to destabilizing fragile states that are already beset with sectarian bickering on the way to claiming large swaths of territory from a defenseless citizenry.
But you can’t intimidate a modern fighter jet by waving around a sword and if you’re a newbie on the Mid-East militant scene, you can’t scare a three decade veteran by beheading a couple of people, which is why if you’re ISIS, the combination of the Russian Air Force and Hezbollah ground troops is absolutely terrifying.
As we documented earlier today, Hezbollah and Iranian troops are advancing on Aleppo and Moscow is backing the offensive from the sky which means that the hodgepodge of anti-regime forces that control Syria’s largest city will almost (and we say "almost" because there are no sure things in war) certainly be routed in a matter of weeks if not days, which would effectively serve to restore the Assad regime in Syria.
After that, the Russian bear and Qasem Soleimani will turn their eyes to the East of the country and at that point, it is game over for ISIS.
Apparently all of the above isn’t completely lost on al-Nusra and Islamic State fighters because if you believe the Russian media (and we’re not saying you should), Sunni extremists are now shaving off their beards and running for their lives. Here’s Sputnik:
Hundreds of ISIL fighters are fleeing Syria for Turkey, as Russia's Defense Ministry previously said, and reports are popping up that they are leaving their beards behind.
Now obviously, these are just pictures of hair on the ground with razors, so that shouldn't be interpreted as anything that even approximates definitive evidence of a full-on ISIS retreat but put yourself in the following situation for a moment. You're a Sunni extremist and your regional and Western backers have just abandoned you. You are now under siege by the Russian Air Force. If you survive the air strikes you will soon have to come face to face with the fiercest, most experienced Shiite militia on the planet and if you somehow manage to survive that, well then you have to fight the Quds Force ("how do you shoot the devil in the back"?).
What would you do?
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We close with the perfect video clip analogy. The US is in the blue shirt, ISIS is in the red, star-spangled jumpsuit, and Russia, well... Russia is the bear.
US to ISIS: "No, no, you can't quit now, we just started. You got to give these people a show man"...