The Syrian army has been stepping up its efforts to break Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS) siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria. RT’s Ruptly video agency obtained exclusive video of the offensive.
The Syrian army has been under siege in a tiny portion of the city for almost three years, and terrorist forces still surround the city.
However, the Syrian army “has gained a lot of ground in the past few weeks from different axis toward the city of Deir ez-Zor,” says the Ammar Waqqaf, Director of the Gnosos think tank.
“Once they secure the main or the last stronghold before Deir ez-Zor, which is the town of Al-Sukhnah, it should be an easier ride toward Deir ez-Zor. Perhaps in the next few weeks, that would be a tangible objective to see it happen,” he told RT.
If the Syrian army succeeds, it would be a significant development for the war overall, he says.
“We need to understand that unlike previous operations, where the Syrian army liberated certain areas, where in most of the cases there were like a military garrison that held out against terrorists and rebels and what have you. This time around we’re talking about 200,000 or so civilians that are entrapped and have refused to submit to ISIS. [They] are in a sort of unison with the Syrian army. If they are liberated, …this would be a huge psychological advantage to the Syrian government,” Waqqaf says.
Ali Rizk, a contributor to Al-Monitor, says that “it’s definitely feasible” for the Syrian army to break the siege.
“The Syrian army has made important advances toward that city, particularly from the outskirts of Raqqa. I think you have to take few elements into consideration. The ceasefire agreement, which was reached between Russia, the US and Jordan in Southwestern Syria …has basically freed up more of Syria’s military to go ahead and launch this attempt to break the siege on Deir ez-Zor,” he told RT.
“Another important element, when we talk about Deir ez-Zor militarily is that it’s mostly a desert area. In desert areas usually air force power has a bigger say in deciding battles, contrary to mountainous regions where maybe militants can hide in caves or elsewhere,” Rizk added.
Another factor that made it possible for the Syrian army “to achieve some kind of a victory in in Deir ez-Zor” is the low morale of ISIS fighters because of their defeats in Syria and Iraq, Rizk said.
This victory would be “huge” for several reasons. Firstly, because it’s the second biggest province in Syria; secondly, it’s an area that links Iraq to Syria, Rizk said.
“When we talk about this, what comes to mind is what the Israelis and Saudis like to call the Shia Crescent or the land bridge linking Tehran to Beirut because Deir ez-Zor would be decisive in that land bridge,” he explained.
And that, according to Rizk, may prompt Israel and Saudi Arabia to try and prevent this from happening.
“I think that more and more likely the Syrian army will achieve victory in Deir ez-Zor, the more and more likely you might see Israel and Saudi Arabia – two of the main American allies in the region – trying to abstract or prevent such a scenario from being fulfilled, perhaps maybe by pushing the Trump administration into more intervention to prevent or to stop the Syrian army from taking Deir ez-Zor. So Deir ez-Zor is important Syria-wise, but it is also very important regionally-wise, as well,” he said.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
‘Children killed on spot, woman’s legs torn off’: Afghan witnesses say 10 killed in US airstrike
Mohammad Khan, a witness of the attack in the Haska Mena district in the Nangarhar Province, allegedly carried out by a US aircraft on Thursday evening, told RT’s Ruptly video agency that he saw 11 people being transported in a vehicle following the airstrike. Of these, 10 died as result of the US airstrike and a woman was severely wounded, he said, adding that “her legs were torn off.”
The bombing was so intense it carved out an impact crater 15 meters wide and 5 meters deep, Khan said, adding that he saw the aftermath of the strike with his own eyes.
“[A] total of 10 civilians were killed and one wounded in one vehicle. The attack was carried out by jet aircrafts,” he said.
While there have been conflicting reports as to the number of people that lost their lives due to the strike, the district authorities confirmed that the attack was carried out by US warplanes and targeted civilians.
Haska Mina Governor Saaz Wali Shinwarit said that the airstrike hit a private vehicle carrying civilians, adding that at least 11 people, all of them hailing from one family, died on the spot and another one was injured.
The bodies of the victims were damaged so severely that they “were beyond recognition,” he said as cited by AFP.
“They were placed inside sacks and were buried late last night.”
Meanwhile, the spokesman for Nangarhar Governor Attaullah Khogyani said that while the strike did result in victims among the civilian population, it was too early to speak about the exact death toll. Afghan TOLO News, citing sources, reported that at least 16 people were killed in the bombing.
Prayers for the dead were held in the Chaparhar district on Friday. Children whose parents died in the attack were among those taking part in the service.
“My two brothers, my mother and a sister were killed,” a girl told Ruptly.
“I lost my father and mother,” a boy said.
Commenting on its reported culpability in the death of civilians, United States Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) rejected the allegations, referring to them as “the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district within the last three weeks.”
The US mission insisted that its warplanes could not mistake the civilian vehicle for one harboring militants. Prior to the strike the vehicle was placed under surveillance during which “the militants were observed loading weapons in the vehicle,” the mission said, adding that any chance of collateral damage was ruled out to the max as the sortie was executed “in the middle of open terrain.”
“There was zero chance of civilian casualties,” USFOR-A spokesman Bob Purtiman said in a statement on Friday.
According to Purtiman, the mission had been proved to be a success and led to the annihilation of “a number of militants” and their vehicle.
Reports of civilian casualties from an allegedly misguided US airstrike in the same area came on July 24, with local residents saying that majority of the victims were civilians who gathered to a prayer ceremony. An MP from Nangarhar, Esmatullah Shinwari, said at the time that at least 8 people were killed and 10 wounded as result of the attack, while urging to halt indiscriminate bombings, according to TOLO News.
While police pledged to look into the reports of civilian casualties, they said that most of the victims were Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists.
This time, the Afghan military also appeared to be skeptical about the reports, with Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s defense ministry, saying that the strike was a coordinated effort of the Afghan and a foreign military and led to the death of “five insurgents.” He promised, however, that the authorities will send a delegation to the area to scrutinize reports on the ground.
In April, the US dropped “The Mother of All Bombs,” also known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on the neighboring district of Achin. Although the bomb was said to kill over 90 IS fighters, its use has sparked a debate, with some blaming Washington for disproportionate use of force. The impact from the bomb reportedly affected nearby villages causing destruction to homes.