ISIS is losing or gaining its territorial hold?

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Washington, Feb 26: The Pentagon officials have expressed wonder on whether the Islamic State (ISIS) militants have started losing or gaining its territorial hold.

This development has come after this week's fighting in Syria brought changes for the self-proclaimed ISIS's grip there.

ISIS is losing or gaining its hold?

Kurdish forces forced ISIS militants to vacate two cities al Thawrah and Ash Shaddadi that is located on supply routes for ISIS's de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.

Kurdish forces got substantial US-led coalition airstrike support in Ash Shaddadi.

While it has also emerged that ISIS has started its expansion toward taking new cities in western Syria after the group has aggressively fended off a months-long Russian-led attempt to reclaim the central city of Palmyra, a city that many believe could serve as ISIS's entrée into western Syria.

"In view of their claim for deadly attack that left at least 200 people dead in Homs and the southern outskirts of Damascus last Sunday has also come up as a signal of group's rising movement in those cities," said an editorial in Daily Beast.

Is ISIS trying to broaden its area of control to make fighting harder for both Russian- and U.S.-backed forces? Or is it losing ground around its capital and looking for any city in Syria where it can grow? It added.

"If ISIS gains more territory in Syria, even with fewer fighters and in the face of thousands of coalition strikes, it would solidify the group's grip on that country. Moreover, such gains would stretch the Russian and coalition forces' air campaign against them," it added.

Read More: ISIS, al-Qaeda using Facebook to buy weapons: Report

Should ISIS continue to hold Palmyra and win Homs, for example, it would put it far closer to parts of Syria still under control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia would then be forced to expand its war over every corner of the country, and the already stretched U.S. coalition would be hard-pressed to fight ISIS on so many fronts.

Either way, recent fighting has marked one of the most dramatic shifts for the group's territorial hold in months.
"ISIS is choosing where to stand and fight," said Jennifer Cafarella, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, who studies the Syrian conflict.

"ISIS appears to have calculated that it would rather take on Syrian Army ground forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, than Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led forces, defense officials and watchers of the conflict have concluded."

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