The Syrian army announced on Friday that it has liberated the long-contested eastern city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State group – a largely symbolic victory in the military's fight to capture remaining IS strongholds.
A military statement said it was now in full control of the city after a weeks-long campaign carried out with allied forces. It said army units were now removing booby traps and mines left behind by the extremist group.
“The army forces... restored security and stability to all of Deir Ezzor city,” a spokesman for the army command said in a statement broadcast live on state television.
“Deir Ezzor represents the final phase in the complete elimination of Daesh,” the statement added, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
The city “was the headquarters of the organisation's leadership, and in losing it, they lose their capacity to direct terrorist operations”, the statement said.
Deir el-Zour had been divided into a government-held area and a part held by the IS group for nearly three years.
The Islamic State "say they have time, they are counting on time" - Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24 expert on jihadist groups.
“Deir Ezzor was one of the first towns where there was fighting – since 2012,” said Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist groups. “First of all, some parts of the town were held by the rebels, then it was held by al Qaeda, then it was taken over by the jihadis of Islamic State. And the loyalist neighbourhoods of the town were under siege for three years, as well as the military airport . They had ammunition, food and everything by plane, [sent] by Russian planes or by Syrian helicopters.”
Syrian government forces and their pro-government allies first broke the militant group’s hold on their part of the city in September and have been advancing on IS positions ever since.
“Assad succeeded in raising Sunni local militias against the jihadis, because the jihadis were very harsh on some of the clans there – they killed many hundreds of them, so some of them joined the Syrian army,” Wassim explained.
“It’s because of those elements which are from the Deir Ezzor region that the Syrian army succeeded in advancing ... and taking the town.”
"This really was the last remaining stronghold of the IS group in Syria" - FRANCE 24 Middle East correspondent Adam Pletts
Iraq's final offensive
Iraqi forces have also retaken al-Qaim in Iraq, one of the last remaining territories in the country still held by Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Friday. Earlier in the day, the country’s Joint Operations Command had said that troops had “regained full control” of the Husaybah border post on the edge of al-Qaim after launching a push to oust the jihadists.
Units from the Iraqi army, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service, Sunni tribal forces and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces have been participating in an offensive to recapture al-Qaim and Rawa, two towns that lie on the border area with Syria.
“Daesh members have to choose between death and surrender,” Abadi said in a statement announcing the offensive last week.
The US-led coalition has said around 1,500 IS group fighters are left in the area, which it expects to be the scene of the “last big fight” against the group in Iraq.
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IS is ‘counting on time’
The developments in Syria and Iraq are the latest significant defeats for the militant group as it sees the “caliphate” it declared in 2014 crumble and it loses almost all of its urban strongholds.
Nevertheless, Nasr highlighted that the group’s “territory is shrinking, but when you talk to them – when you see their literature, their propaganda, their speeches – you know that for a year and a half and even two years, they are trying to [suggest] leaving towns, leaving cities and going back to the desert – as they were in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”
They are “counting on [in]fighting between the allies of today and enemies of tomorrow, like the Kurds in Erbil [and] Baghdad”, he said.
They are also counting on "the end of Western military pressure", according to Nasr. When the US military began disengaging in Iraq in 2011, the Islamic State group returned. When the Americans disengaged in Afghanistan, the Islamic State group moved in.
"So they are counting on time, they say they have time,” Nasr said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-11-03