Updated Saturday, December 16
Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra, the sole remaining U.S.-backed vetted Syrian opposition group better known as MaT, repelled multiple Islamic State attacks on the deconfliction zone near At Tanf in southern Syria on Wednesday, December 13, a media outlet linked to the group said.
The 55-km radius At Tanf deconfliction zone is surrounded on three sides by pro-regime forces, while the fourth is the border with Iraq and Jordan. MaT maintains security in the zone.
Hammurabi’s Justice News tweeted that ISIS launched attacks on the 55km zone “from an area supposedly under full regime control” starting at around 4:00 a.m.
The ISIS attack (from areas under regime & Russians control) on the 55 KM zone near Tanf has been defeated by MaT & Coalition Forces. The last result is 17 captured (5 Foreign), 14 of ISIS elements have been killed & at least 10 wounded, 3 vehicles were destroyed by MaT Fighters. pic.twitter.com/9tDijKYNd6
— Hammurabi's Justice (@Hammurabi_News) December 13, 2017
MaT fighters engaged and repelled the attacks, Hammurabi’s Justice News tweeted later, saying that 14 ISIS fighters were killed and ten wounded, and that 17 ISIS members – including five foreign fighters – were captured. Three ISIS vehicles were destroyed.
A Coalition press release about the incident published on December 14 confirmed “A number of Daesh terrorists were detained in the engagement, including foreign terrorists.”
CNN reported two U.S. military officials as saying that 21 ISIS fighters were killed and 17 captured. According to CNN, a small group that included foreign fighters from other countries in the Middle East had broken off during the fight and were later captured.
Coalition air support
Mozahem al-Saloum, founder of Hammurabi’s Justice News, told The Defense Post via an online encrypted messaging service that MaT sources said the Coalition provided air support during the engagement.
A spokesperson for the Coalition told The Defence Post on December 14 that the incident occurred “in the vicinity of At Tanf Garrison in the Syria-Iraq-Jordan tri-border area,” but it was not an ISIS attack and airstrikes were not carried out.
“Coalition Forces accompanied the Maghaweir al Thowra (MaT) during operations on Dec. 13, 2017. MaT forces intercepted the Daesh terrorists; the MaT was not attacked by Daesh. The MaT intercepted the Daesh terrorists after Daesh penetrated the pro-regime Syrian forces’ lines unopposed.,” the Coalition spokesperson said in a December 14 email.
“This particular incident did not involve an airstrike.”
However, a Coalition strike report released on December 15 said that five strikes carried out near At Tanf on December 13 “engaged three ISIS tactical units and destroyed three ISIS vehicles, four cave entrances and a tactical vehicle.”
The Coalition clarified these seemingly conflicting statements in a December 16 email to The Defense Post, saying that the reported strikes were related to the MaT engagement with ISIS but they occurred later.
“The Coalition strikes near At Tanf, Syria on Dec. 13 to Dec. 14, 2017, as reported in our Strike Release on Dec. 15, 2017, were connected to the MaT encounter with Daesh near At Tanf on Dec. 13, 2017,” a Coalition spokesperson said. “The Coalition strikes near At Tanf, Syria Dec. 13 to Dec. 14, 2017, were primarily against Daesh survivors from the MaT engagement. Before conducting these strikes, the Coalition deconflicted with the Russians. Our assessment is that movement of these Deash terrorists from the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) through porous Syrian Pro-Regime Force lines was a failed attempt to find a safe haven in areas of western Syria.”
The Coalition spokesperson on December 14 said there were no Coalition casualties. Saloum told The Defense Post that MaT sources said there were no MaT casualties.
The Coalition count of ISIS casualties differed from that reported by Hammurabi’s Justice News.
“We can confirm that at least 20 ISIS (Daesh) terrorists were killed in this incident on Dec. 13, 2017, and three ISIS vehicles were destroyed,” the spokesperson said. The December 14 press release said “more than 20 Daesh terrorists” were killed.
“Today, because of the commitment of the Coalition and the demonstrated competence of our partners in Iraq and Syria, there are less than 3,000 Daesh terrorists, most of whom are being hunted down in the desert regions in eastern Syria and Western Iraq,” the spokesperson added, highlighting that at its height, ISIS had up to 45,000 members in Syria and Iraq.
“As yesterday’s incident near At Tanf demonstrates, our partners continue to play the major role in the destruction of ISIS’ so-called physical “caliphate”,” the spokesperson concluded.
Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve director of operations, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga said: “Despite the presence of Russian-backed, pro-Syrian regime forces in the area, Daesh still finds ways to move freely through regime lines and pose a threat.”
Colonel Muhanad al Talaa, commander of MaT told Reuters: “This is the second time this month small groups and convoys of Daesh are moving from the eastern areas of Syria toward the southern area through areas controlled by the regime, the Russians and Shi‘ite militias. There are Daesh convoys that are moving and that the regime and the Russians are not seeing them, this is a matter that is strange.”
On November 16, MaT and Coalition forces engaged and defeated another attempted ISIS attack in the deconfliction zone near At Tanf. Nine ISIS fighters were killed and several vehicles destroyed.
Four days later, a spokesperson for the Coalition told The Defense Post that around 180 fighters had recently been demobilized from MaT after completing their military service. The following day a Coalition spokesperson confirmed that the demobilized fighters retained their U.S.-supplied M-16 rifles for personal protection, but that other equipment was returned. Syria Direct later reported an MaT source as saying between 40 and 60 fighters remain in the group.
لا زالت المعركة قائمة في دائرة ال55 بين جيش مغاوير الثورة و تنظيم داعش وخسائر داعش بالعشرات بين قتلى وأسرى ولا زالت المعركة قائمة منذ الساعة الرابعة صباحاً وحتى الآن pic.twitter.com/QRlEhl4NIT
— مغاوير الثورة (@MaghaweirThowra) December 13, 2017
This post was updated on December 14 with comments received from the Coalition; on December 15 to include information from Coalition press releases, and from CNN and Reuters; and again on December 16 to include clarification from the Coalition.