Pro-Assad forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, are trying again to take the last major position of the Islamic State in Syria.
More than a week after the Assad regime’s military claimed the capture of al-Bukamal in Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria on the Iraq border — only for its forces, Hezbollah, and Iranian-led militias to soon retreat amid an ISIS ambush — Syrian State media wrote on Saturday of attacks that “tightened the siege on the last fortified positions of Daesh”.
State news agency SANA, which never acknowledged last weekend’s setback, asserted that the regime army and allies were confronting “what is left of Daesh terrorists in the city’s outskirts”. It said control had been established over roads connecting al-Bukamal with other towns.
Russia’s Defense Ministry hailed strikes by six Tu-22M3 long-range bombers near the town: “Special monitoring equipment confirmed that all of the designated targets were hit.”
The Islamic State has lost almost all its positions this year, falling back before offensives by pro-Assad units, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and rebels. Last month its central position in Syria, the city of Raqqa, was taken by the SDF after a four-month offensive.
Pro-Assad forces entered Deir ez-Zor Province at the start of September and soon broke ISIS’s three-year siege on the divided city of Deir ez-Zor city, while the SDF closed on the area from the north and the east. The two sides have subsequently raced to take valuable territory, including oil and gas fields.
Al-Bukamal is a key position for the movement of men and supplies from Iraq.