While America’s attention is rightly focused on white supremacists and our president’s steadfast refusal to denounce them, over in the Middle East, ISIS is reeling, and its de-facto capital city is in what may be the final throes of a bloody last stand.
Kurdish and Syrian militia fighters aligned under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces—also known as the main resistance against Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad—have had ISIS’s capital city of Raqqa surrounded and its leadership cut off for the past two months. Much of the city is now in SDF hands.
Inside what’s left of ISIS’s caliphate, a profound humanitarian crisis persists. Food, water and medicine are nonexistent. Those ISIS fighters who can flee are doing so. And, according to the U.S.-lead coalition, they’re in poor shape. They’re hungry, they’re sick and they’re high.
Speaking to reporters from Baghdad, U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon described the condition of some recently captured ISIS fighters.
“Many of them [were] pocked with needle tracks from what is assessed as amphetamines they used to maintain their murderous fervor,” said Dillon, according to Newsweek. “The fact that they are using some sort of drugs to keep them alert and to keep them going is some telling signs of their desperation.”
ISIS’s rigid religious orthodoxy has proven surprisingly pliant, depending on the circumstances.
Most interpretations of Islamic law forbids the use of recreational drugs like marijuana—but, desperate for cash with oil revenues running low, ISIS has reportedly turned to growing weed, selling the proceeds from cannabis farms in southern Iraq to smugglers who take the jihadi joints to Turkey.
Then there’s captagon.
The slang term for a particularly unpleasant version of speed containing an amphetamine derivative called fenethylline, captagon has become the Pervitin of the Syrian civil war and accompanying struggle against ISIS. According to some veterans of the current Middle Eastern war, ISIS will send out its Uyghur volunteers, poorly armed but loaded to the gills with captagon, on suicide missions against Kurdish militia positions. Just because.
Captagon has become known as the “official drug” of the Syrian Civil War, supposedly relied upon by forces loyal to Assad, Syrian rebels and ISIS fanatics alike to keep going during the years of murderous street fighting.
However, a report recently published by a European drug expert disputes this narrative somewhat. The uppers used in the Middle East today are probably just regular old speed—nothing particularly special or different about it. As generations of soldiers and pilots in armies, like the one fielded by the United States can tell you, “regular” speed is plenty sufficient to keep wide-eyed and alert when in a combat zone.
More telling than any wartime spiel about trackmarks in ISIS survivors’ arms is the fact that they’re emaciated and malnourished. They’re suffering, as are any civilians left inside ISIS-controlled Raqqa. War is bad, people are dying, and the sooner it is over—provided it is over for good, which is almost surely not going to be the case—the better.
The Kurdish-Arab coalition has had Raqqa surrounded since June 6. Meanwhile, there are 5,700 pairs of American boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, just keeping an eye on things.