On Sunday, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels took back the symbolically important town of Dabiq, near Syria’s border, from its Islamic State occupiers. Though the small town is of “marginal strategic importance,” it is significant because of the role Dabiq has played in ISIS propaganda: as the Associated Press reports, “Citing Islamic lore, the extremist group claims [Dabiq] will be the stage for an apocalyptic battle between Crusaders and an army of the Muslim caliphate that will herald doomsday.”
Saif Abu Bakr, a commander of the Syrian opposition Hamza Brigade, told the AP that Islamic State fighters surrendered with “minimal” resistance after 2,000 opposition fighters entered Dabiq armed with tanks and artillery support from the Turkish army. Islamic State fighters evacuated to the al-Bab, a town south of Dabiq that is still controlled by ISIS.
The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Turkish and international coalition warplanes backed up rebel troops, carrying out airstrikes in Dabiq and Arshak. As Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS, tweeted Sunday, “#ISIL promised ‘final victory’ in #Dabiq but today its fighters fled in defeat at the hands of Syrians supported by our @coalition.”
According to a report by the IHS Conflict Monitor group, ISIS has lost a quarter of its territory in Syria and Iraq since January 2015.