On a blazing afternoon in Syria’s eastern desert this month, a Kurdish commander was hot under the collar. An American raid had just taken place against remnants of Islamic State (IS), and Lukman Khalil, the region’s most senior military leader, had known nothing about it.
The US forces had flown across the wasteland of the terrorist group’s last redoubt. Three years ago it was teeming with diehard IS members, but when thousands of holdouts emerged from the decimated town of Baghuz, the war against the so-called caliphate was won, or so it seemed.
“People couldn’t be more wrong,” said Khalil. “[IS] thinks this was a lull, not a loss. And now they’re back to fighting us from the shadows.”