As the ‘Caliphate Crumbles,’ the Islamic State is Seeding a New Insurgency by Louisa Loveluck – Washington Post
DEIR AL-ZOUR, Syria - The road to the final scrap of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in eastern Syria is quiet for the most part. U.S.-backed forces cruise past fields of flowers in their armored vehicles. Locals forage for truffles, and dogs roam barren patches of earth, too, digging up bodies from the battles that were fought here.
But when the vehicles reach al-Suwar, a nondescript town on the road to the jihadists’ last stronghold, the passengers spring into high alert. Guns are cocked, and drivers hit the gas. Then they belt down the road. “It’s not safe here,” one young fighter said on a recent drive. “We know there are sleeper cells, and we know they are watching us.”
As Islamic State cadres mount a final stand in what remains of their proto-state, the group is already switching gears, returning to its insurgent roots by seeding sleeper cells across parts of Syria and Iraq it once controlled. The U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fear to linger in the villages they technically hold on the road to Baghouz, the Islamic State’s final redoubt. Assassinations are mounting, locals say. Jihadists set up checkpoints by night, then melt away with the dawn…