Russia, Syria Surround 3,000 Square Miles of ISIS Land
Albanian Daily News
Published August 16, 2017
The Syrian military and its allies, including Russia, are approaching the final steps toward completely surrounding the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in a massive pocket of Syrian territory spanning the size of nearly two entire U.S. states.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group with ties to the exiled opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, released a report Monday detailing recent pro-government gains on two fronts that, if met, would seal off over 3,000 square miles of ISIS-held land in the Syrian desert, an area roughly equivalent to the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Russia has played a major role in backing the Syrian military and allied factions, which the SOHR said included fighters of Afghan, Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian origins. After the most recent advances, including a Syrian paratrooper attack on ISIS that Russia called "unprecedented," the SOHR said the Syrian military was less than 15 and a half miles away from laying siege to ISIS.
Related: What Is ISIS Fighting for Now? The Islamic State Dream Is Dead, But Its Violence Lives On in the Middle East
"Violent clashes due to the regime and Russian aircraft's intensive strikes on the battlefield, in addition to heavy missile bombardment, enabled regime forces to achieve new progress, as they imposed control by air and missile cover over three new areas located near Wahat al-Koum," SOHR wrote.
"The clashes and shelling left dead and wounded on both sides of the fighting," the group added.
The report also referenced a successful Syrian airborne landing Saturday in the village of Qadir, located miles behind ISIS lines near the border of Homs and Raqqa governorates. Prior to the operation, Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters and the Syrian military reportedly conducted a nighttime assault on ISIS positions in Qadir, which lies some 75 miles west of ISIS-held Deir ez-Zor, the retaking of which is among the ultimate goals of the Syrian campaign against the jihadists. Paratroopers of the Syrian army then managed to land over a dozen miles from the front lines near the villages of Qadir and Khirbet Mikman, ultimately dislodging ISIS from the area, Russian state media reported.
"For the first time since the beginning of combat operations against the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria, Syrian government forces organized and conducted a virtuosic tactical landing operation behind militantsí lines with their subsequent defeat and liberation of the settlement of Qadir," Russia's defense ministry said in a statement, according to Tass Russian News Agency.
"Russian military advisers took direct part in the preparation of the operation and control over it," it added.
Saturday's southbound advances into Homs paralleled another strategic victory over the formerly ISIS-controlled village of Sukhnah, where a separate Syrian military formation is progressing to the north. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told state media Sunday that recent Syrian military accomplishments have allowed the Syrian government to more than double its territory in the past two months, and that the anticipated recapture of Deir ez-Zor, which has been under ISIS siege since 2014, would "say a lot, if not everything, about the end of the battle with [ISIS]."