US bombs road in drive to block ISIS fighters in Syria

“Relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution.”

August 30, 2017 15:13
3 minute read.
A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The US-led coalition bombed a road and a vehicle in Syria on Wednesday in an effort to prevent ISIS fighters evacuated from the Lebanese border from reaching an area near Iraq.

Brett McGurk, the US special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, said in a statement that “the coalition cratered the road heading east between Hamaymah and Abul Kamal to prevent the further transport of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners, and struck individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS.”

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Earlier in the day the US-led coalition condemned the “agreement between Lebanese Hezbollah and ISIS,” which has allowed hundreds of besieged ISIS fighters and families to be bused through Syrian regime-controlled areas to the area near Iraq.

“Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they allow known terrorists to transit territory under their control,” the press desk of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve wrote in response to an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post. “ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution.”

The US-led coalition of around 70 countries has been fighting ISIS for three years and is on the verge of defeating the group in Iraq and also in its capital of Raqqa in Syria.

On Monday, hundreds of ISIS fighters were allowed to board buses in the Qalamoun mountains near Syria’s border with Lebanon, where they had been defending a besieged enclave, and drive to eastern Syria near Deir al-Zor. The Iraqi government condemned the move as “unacceptable” and threatening Iraq, because the ISIS fighters will now be in the Euphrates Valley and can easily move to ISIS-controlled areas near al-Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province.

“This is further evidence of why coalition military action to defeat ISIS in Syria is necessary,” the coalition statement said. “The coalition is monitoring the movement of these fighters in real-time. In according with the law of armed conflict, the coalition will take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to.”

Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the coalition, in separate comments reported by The New York Times, said that “those would be absolutely lucrative targets,” a thinly veiled threat that the ISIS fighters would be targeted by air strikes. The fighters were transported on buses with their families, which means any strike would take that into account. The coalition said that it “has not struck the convoy” itself.

Most important, the air strikes and statements illustrate the continuing distrust between the coalition and pro-Assad regime forces, including Hezbollah. The US views the Lebanese group as a terrorist organization and President Donald Trump has condemned Hezbollah as a menace. The decision by the Syrian regime to seemingly dump ISIS fighters on the doorstep of Iraq so they become the “problem” of someone else will likely create distrust between Baghdad and Damascus as Iraqi and Syrian forces return to border areas that ISIS has held for three years.

The decision to strike the road also may heighten tensions with the Syrian regime, since the US has tended to refrain from air strikes in that area west of the Euphrates due to its “de-confliction” with the Syrian regime and Russia so that different air forces that operate in Syria do not come into contact. By showing resolve to prevent the ISIS fighters from nearing Iraq, the US has stood by its Iraqi government partners who indicated the transfer of the fighters was a threat.

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