Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to advance against ISIS-held Mosul. Leading the charge to liberate Mosul are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. On 15 August 2016, Peshmerga troops liberated 11 villages from ISIS control on the outskirts of Mosul. Aided by American airstrikes, Kurds have retaken over 90 square miles of territory surrounding the city. The Iraqi government has declared Mosul will be liberated by the end of 2016, though any future assault will largely depend on the continued success of Kurdish forces.
In Syria, Kurdish forces have continued to retake territory lost to ISIS. Again supported by American airstrikes, the Kurds retook Manbij (a large ISIS-held city southwest of Kobane, where Kurdish troops defeated ISIS in 2015). At the end of May 2016, Kurdish forces had advanced to the outskirts of Raqqa (declared capital of ISIS), though it appears their offensive has largely stalled, and operations elsewhere have diverted manpower and resources. The loss of Raqqa and Mosul could serve as a death blow to ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The military success of Kurdish troops further supports the call for Kurdish independence. The Kurds have long held control over the Kurdistan Autonomous Region. After the fall of the Ba’athist regime in 2003, they have further strengthened their local government. While the rest of Iraq was plagued by violence during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kurdistan experienced peace and saw their economy grow by leaps and bounds. Kurdish forces have continually proved to be the most effective fighting force in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. While Baghdad has largely opposed an independent Kurdistan, international recognition may inspire Kurdish leaders to declare independence.
While the timeline for victory against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is uncertain, Kurdish support and participation will be the determining factor in destroying the terror organization. The Iraqi government remains splintered, plagued by the Sunni and Shiite divide. The Assad regime is almost entirely dependent on Russian support (both from airstrikes and materiel) and remains unable to make significant gains against ISIS. The Syrians have retaken some territory from ISIS forces but largely remains locked in a brutal struggle against anti-Assad forces in places like Aleppo. It will be interesting once ISIS collapses if territory seized by the Kurds will be incorporated into the future Kurdish state, or if another deadly conflict looms in the future.