First Published: 2017-11-09

Syrian forces retake last IS-held town
IS jihadists' latest rout leaves them with only the dregs of a self-styled 'state' that once spanned huge territory in Iraq and Syria.
Middle East Online

Much fighting was done by allied militias rather than the regular Syrian army.

DAMASCUS - Syrian troops and allied militiamen on Thursday expelled Islamic State group fighters from Albu Kamal, the last significant town the jihadists still held in their disintegrating "caliphate".

The jihadists' latest rout left them with only the dregs of a self-styled "state" that once spanned huge territory in Iraq and Syria, with surviving IS fighters melting away into desert hideouts.

Anti-IS forces stormed into the town just across the border from Iraq on Wednesday and while fighting was initially reported as fierce, the outcome of one of IS's last major battles was never in doubt.

"Our armed forces units, in cooperation with allied and auxiliary forces, have liberated the town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province," a statement carried by the official SANA news agency said.

"Albu Kamal's liberation is very important because it means the failure of the IS terrorist group in the region," the army statement said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said much of the fighting had been done by allied militias rather than the regular army.

The capture of Albu Kamal was be the last in a string of setbacks that saw IS lose its urban bastions of Mosul and Raqa within a few weeks and its embryonic state shrink to a rump.

Leading the battle for the town were the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and advisers from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, as well as fighters from mostly Shiite Iraqi militias, according to Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

He said that even as IS still controlled half of the town and fighting raged earlier Thursday, the jihadists retained one escape route to the north.

Abdel Rahman confirmed that Albu Kamal had been fully retaken but said that "IS withdrew to desert areas in eastern Deir Ezzor" province, where they are likely to encounter US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.

- Thousands displaced -

The jihadists' flight from the town, where IS leaders used to meet and were once considered untouchable, caps a process which has seen the group relinquish any ambition as a land-holding force and return to the desert to fight a clandestine guerrilla war.

Many of the group's top leaders have been killed as Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from Russia, Iran and a US-led coalition rolled back the territorial losses that saw the jihadists declare a "caliphate" roughly the size of Britain in 2014.

But the whereabouts of the first among them, self-proclaimed "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains unclear. He has been reported killed or wounded many times but IS has never offered ay confirmation.

The capture of the group's last urban stronghold had always looked to be a matter of days after Syrian forces last week retook provincial capital Deir Ezzor and Iraqi forces reconquered Albu Kamal's twin town of Al-Qaim just over the border.

There was little to slow the advance of the Syrian and its allies after their victories further up the Euphrates valley, but while the military phase of the fight against IS was nearing its end, the humanitarian crisis it sparked was still in full swing.

"In the last few weeks, an estimated 120,000 people were displaced from Albu Kamal," the United Nations' humanitarian affairs office in Damascus said.

IS still has a small presence in the east of Homs province, in the southern outskirts of Damascus and in the southern province of Daraa.

It also holds the small Iraqi town of Rawa down the Euphrates valley from Al-Qaim.

A rival jihadist alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls much of the northwestern province of Idlib and adjacent areas as well as pockets of territory elsewhere.

It has come under attack by Russian-backed government forces and by Turkish-backed rebels.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011, which spiralled into a complex, multi-front war that drew in jihadists and armed forces from around the region and beyond.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire