In a further sign of an agreement involving the US and the Assad regime, the American military has indicated its acceptance of pro-Assad forces reclaiming Deir ez-Zor city in eastern Syria.
In a summer offensive, the regime’s military and foreign allies such as Hezbollah have entered Deir ez-Zor Province, most of which has been held by the Islamic State since 2014. They have broken ISIS’s siege of Deir ez-Zor city and the nearby military airport, and are now in western parts of the city.
The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces entered Deir ez-Zor Province from the north last week, advancing to the north of Deir ez-Zor city and capturing the industrial district to the east. The advance raised the possibility of a clash between the pro-Assad units and the SDF, currently separated by about 15 km (10 miles).
The spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS, Colonel Ryan Dillon, said on Friday, “I’ll just tell you that the plan is not to go into Deir ez-Zor city but there [are] plenty of ISIS fighters and resources and leaders that continue to have holdouts throughout the middle Euphrates River valley.”
The US is backing the SDF in other major operations against a retreating ISIS throughout northern Syria, notably the offensive to retake Raqqa city, which had been the center of the Islamic State’s territory in the country.
Backed by American airstrikes that have also killed hundreds of civilians, the SDF has a majority of the city and is slowly taking significant positions amid sustained ISIS resistance.
The political status of the Syrian Kurdish territory in and after the conflict is unsettled. Bashar al-Assad has said that he will not accept Kurdish autonomy, a position supported by his key ally Iran and also by Turkey, which considers the leading Syrian Kurdish group PYD to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
However, Assad’s other essential ally Russia has been careful to avoid any declaration about Syrian Kurdish autonomy.