IT IS less a chaotic rout than a tactical retreat, but suddenly Islamic State (IS) is losing ground quite fast. At both ends of its self-proclaimed caliphate, the jihadist group is ceding territory. It quietly withdrew from Tal Afar, the largest Iraqi city still under its control, on August 27th.
Simultaneously, hundreds of IS fighters and their families emerged from their caves in the Qalamoun mountains, astride Lebanon’s border with Syria, and boarded buses heading east. Trapped between Syrian and Lebanese forces on the ground, and Russian bombardment from the air, they gave up after a weeklong battle.
Increasingly, the jihadists are being squeezed into a ribbon along the Euphrates valley. Having lost the Iraqi city of Mosul, and on the retreat in the Syrian city of Raqqa, their last redoubt is likely to be the city of Deir ez-Zor, in eastern Syria. But here, too, they are vulnerable: the Syrian army retains control of two enclaves on the western edge of the city….