Islamic State militants, routed from one urban stronghold after another in Syria, have recently been moving deeper into Syria’s remote desert, where experts say they are regrouping and preparing their next incarnation.
The Sunni militants’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” with its contiguous stretch of land — linking major cities such as Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul — may have been vanquished, but many agree this territorial defeat will not mark the end of IS.
Beyond the urban and inhabited areas lies the vast Syrian Desert, also known as Badiyat al-Sham, famous for its caves and rugged mountains. It encompasses about 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) across parts of southeastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq.
The desolate landscape is a perfect hideout and a second home for many IS militants from the days before the birth of their caliphate. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to mount search operations — and even more to put the desert under permanent control.