Sunday, April 16, 2017

Syrian rebels take vast desert area from the Islamic State

Large areas of southern Syria near the Jordanian border have been seized by Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups from the Islamic State (IS)

The advances will help prevent IS fighters from regrouping near Damascus and the Jordanian border as they face defeats in the city of Raqqa. Some also may be leaving Iraq as they lose Mosul as well. Western intelligence sources worry that fleeing IS militants would be able to find a safe haven in the vast desert area along the Jordanian border with Syria. The rebels in the area are receiving military aid that is funneled through Jordan and overseen by the CIA. The gains are the culmination of an operation that began last December as described in this article.
Talas al Salameh, commander of the largest of the FSA groups said: "Extensive areas have fallen into our hands. (Islamic State) has been pushed out of them in heavy clashes in 16 days of battles.m (Islamic State) had cut roads and were in control and had been positioned in former Syrian army bases with a strong presence and with heavy armor. We cut links between their areas and as a result they began to retreat." The Islamic State fighters are coming under increasing pressure as they face campaigns by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Front near Raqqa as well as the Russian-backed Syrian army and Turkish-backed FSA groups.
Salameh said that the IS had withdrawn hundreds of troops from areas through which the FSA advanced. He suggested that they were redeploying to help defend Raqqa and Deir al-Zor province to the east. The area captured is sparsely populated all the way from about 50 kilometers from Damascus to the borders with Iraq and Jordan a desert area known as the Badia. Salameh said that if Raqqa and Mosul fell the IS would have been retreating to the area they had just captured. Said Seif an official with another FSA faction claimed that 250 square kilometers (96 square miles) had been taken in the Badia alone. He said that at least 117 of his fighters had been killed over the last few months from assaults and ambushes by the IS militants.
The areas taken are some of the longest held IS positions in southern Syria. The current operation is called "We Have Saddled Up to Cleanse the Desert". Recent operations had been coordinated with US-led coalition forces and had air support. A military source said IS fighers were able to leave through the vast, sparsely populated area in individual cars and motorcycles.

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