Update November 12 Many have disputed the claim that Al Bukamal is fully under government control, with some saying Assad and his allies use “deconfliction dibs” to claim territory that they haven’t captured.
Syrian troops and allied militias on Thursday claimed they captured the border town of Al Bukamal, the last major town held by Islamic State in Syria.
Pro-government forces moved into Al Bukamal on Wednesday and, after initial fighting described as “fierce,” took full control of the town in less than a day
“Our armed forces units, in cooperation with allied and auxiliary forces, have liberated the town of Al Bukamal in Deir Ezzor province,” the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said in a televised statement.
“The liberation of Al Bukamal is of great importance because it represents the failure of the ISIS terrorist project in the region generally, and the collapse of its supporters’ illusions to divide it, to control large parts of the Syria-Iraq borders and to secure supply routes between the two countries,” Syrian Arab Army spokesperson General Ali Mayhoub said.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said much of the fighting was by allied militias including Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and other mostly Shiite Iraqi militias rather than the regular army.
Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) denied that its forces entered Syria, although last week a Kataib Hezbollah spokesperson said Hashd al-Shaabi units would enter Syria to battle ISIS in Al Bukamal.
Instead of a battle to the death as was seen in Mosul, many fighters surrendered or fled, Reuters reported. “There’s some fighters left but they’re few. Small numbers is all I can say,” a Syrian army commander said. “Some were killed and some ran away. They went toward eastern or northern villages.”
SOHR’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that ISIS fighters “withdrew to desert areas in eastern Deir Ezzor” province, where they are likely to encounter U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters.
Al Bukamal’s capture follows a series of defeats for ISIS in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Syrian regime and allied forces, backed by intensive Russian air strikes, have steadily advanced on Al Bukamal from the north and west for several weeks, taking control of Deir Ezzor city from ISIS on Friday. Government and allied troops have recaptured swathes of ISIS-held territory west of the Euphrates river, as well as from rebel groups across other parts of the country.
Iraqi forces have closed in on the border area from the east and south, capturing the town of Al Qaim on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are battling ISIS east of the Euphrates, and have made rapid advances since the capture of Raqqa from ISIS, taking control of many of Syria’s largest oil and gas fields in its push toward the border.
A spokesperson told The Defense Post that they were now in a period of ‘consolidating gains’ and the Coalition is preparing to wage a counterinsurgency and counterterror fight as opposed to a straight military operation.
With reporting from AFP