PHOTO: New Syrian Army fighters before the defeat of their assault on ISIS-held Abukamal on Wednesday
The Islamic State has repelled an attack by a US-supported force in eastern Syria.
The New Syrian Army, created last year to challenge ISIS along the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, launched the assault late Tuesday on Abukamal, on the Euphrates River close to Iraq. The town is essential to Islamic State supply lines from Iraq to Syria.
The NSA soon claimed to take territory around the town, including the defunct al-Hamdan airbase, with airdropped troops and activation of “sleeper cells”. A spokesman for the US-led coalition said eight large airstrikes and “advice and assistance” backed the ground operations.
A commander even declared that there were clashes inside Abukamal.
However, by Wednesday afternoon ISIS had regained the lost areas and was proclaiming a decisive victory. The jihadists posted footage of captured weapons and said the NSA had lost more than 40 fighters, with 15 captured.
A rebel source confirmed that the Islamic State had encircled the NSA in a surprise ambush, inflicting heavy casualties: “The news is not good. I can say our troops were trapped and suffered many casualties and several fighters were captured and even weapons were taken.”
NSA spokesman Muzahem al-Saloum confirmed, “We have withdrawn to the outlying desert and the first stage of the campaign has ended. He said most of their fighters had returned to their base at al-Tanf, the town and border crossing to the southwest which was taken from ISIS in early May, although there was some fighting in the desert south of Abukamal.
Another spokesman, Abdulsalem Muzil, tried to portray the offensive as a victory, saying that fighters retreated with most of their weapons and vehicles: “The whole operation was a test of power for the New Syrian Army, and our forces proved they can fight ISIS.”
But the NSA’s Secretary, Khaled al-Hamad, admitted defeat: “The support given to the [Army] was very modest in terms of armament or number of fighters. The number of fighters not helping to move on more than one axis is one reason of the failure.”
He explained that the attack was supposed to be in coordination with Iraqi forces in Anbar Province in western Iraq; however, “the Iraqis did not manage to advance, which led us to stop the battle”.
Regarding another offensive, al-Hamad said, “The whole battle will be reconsidered and everything will be scrutinized.”
Food and Medical Aid Reaches 2 Towns Near Damascus
The Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered food and medical aid to two blockaded towns near Damascus on Wednesday.
The UN said a 38-truck convoy, with aid for about 20,000 people, reached Zamalka and Erbin.
“Today is the first time we are able to move a joint convoy of the United Nations, the Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent…to these two towns since November 2012, nearly four years ago,” UN humanitarian coordinator Yacoub El Hillo told reporters.
The Red Cross said the aid included food parcels, wheat flour, hygiene kits, and medicine.
— ICRC Syria (@ICRC_sy) June 29, 2016
With the deliveries, at least one shipment has reached all besieged areas of Syria since January. However, the assistance has been limited, with some of it apparently diverted by the Syrian military, and Damascus suburbs such as Darayya have been regularly bombed and shelled before and after a convoy.
The Assad regime relaxed barriers to aid after a February 27 cessation of hostilities agreement, but it tightened the blockades in April and May, with the UN able to get to only 5% of hard-to-reach Syrians.
Aid agencies have repeatedly called for regular access to areas under siege, saying that one-off deliveries quickly run out and that those in need remain blockaded.