Syrian troops retake last ISIL urban stronghold of Albu Kamal
The Syrian army and its allies have taken Albu Kamal, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s last major stronghold in Syria, representing the end of ISIL’s project in the region, the army general command said on Nov. 9.
The army said it is now fighting the last remaining ISIL pockets in the country’s eastern desert, an army statement said.
“The liberation of Albu Kamal city is very important because it signals the general fall of the terrorist Daesh [another widely used acronym for ISIL] organization’s project in the region,” a statement from the general command said.
Albu Kamal, on the Euphrates River, is located in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province on the Iraqi border.
Syrian pro-government media said Syrian troops had clashed with remnants of ISIL militants in the town after they entered it late on Nov. 8. A day later, they reported the town clear of ISIL fighters.
Pro-Syrian media reported the town was liberated. Al-Ikhbariya TV’s journalist reported from the road to the town, joyfully breaking out on camera: “Daesh is finished. Live.”
U.S. officials have estimated that there were between 2,500 and 3,500 ISIL militants around Albu Kamal. Leading members of the group were also believed to have taken refuge in Albu Kamal.
ISIL has suffered consecutive defeats at the hands of separate but simultaneous offensives in Iraq and Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian forces and allied militias as well as U.S.-backed Iraqi and Syrian fighters.
Despite its fall, the group’s media apparatus has remained active and its fighters are likely to keep up their insurgency from desert areas.
The swift fall of Albu Kamal in eastern Deir Ezzor province was accelerated after Iraqi forces seized Qaim, the town across the border last weekend, also controlling a strategic crossing between the two countries.
A senior Iraqi official said there was an agreement on Nov. 7 to send Iraqi paramilitaries to Syria to take part in the Albu Kamal operation, adding that the Syrians were to supply them with weapons and gear. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
An Iraqi spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces has told The Associated Press last week that his forces, part of the Iraqi security forces, will participate in the operation and will head north to protect the borders and secure the road from Iran to Lebanon.
Albu Kamal is the last urban center for the militants in both Iraq and Syria where Syrian troops -backed by Russia and Iranian-supported militias - and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are vying for control of the strategic border town.
Washington is wary of increasing Iran influence in the area and has backed the SDF in their bid to uproot ISIL from the borders with Iraq. The proximity of forces in the area has raised concerns about potential clashes between them as they approach Albu Kamal from opposite sides of the Euphrates River, and now from across the border with Iraq.
It was not clear if the government seizure of the town means the end of the race for control of territory previously held by ISIL.
So far the Kurdish-led SDF have focused on the area east of the Euphrates, seizing a number of oil and gas fields and securing large swathes of areas along the border with Iraq, as well as the newly liberated Raqqa city.