Last week, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) uncovered a large ISIS base in the outskirt of the city of al-Mayadin in the province of Deir Ezzor. The base contained several mass graves of civilians who had been executed by the terrorist group more than two years ago, a training ground, a munitions workshop and a tunnel network to connect various positions. Army troop seized dozens of improvised rocket-assisted munition and a destroyed T-72 battle tank on the site.
This revelation once again highlighted large security problems, which still exist in the areas liberated from ISIS in eastern Syria. Al-Mayadin was liberated by the SAA in October 2017. However, government forces still release reports about newly found weapons caches and tunnels abandoned by ISIS. This is likely a result of the insufficient efforts or lack of resources to fully secure the area.
Such problems become especially important as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are finishing their operation against ISIS in the Hajin pocket and multiple ISIS members are fleeing it towards the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert, northeastern Syria and western Iraq.
On February 9, the SDF announced the start of its final push to eliminate the ISIS-held pocket. The announcement came in response to an attack by a group of 12 ISIS members on SDF positions in the Omar oil fields. SDF fighters, backed by US-led coalition warplanes, repelled the attack killing 10 ISIS members. 2 others withdrew to their positions in the Euphrates Valley.
On February 10, the SDF press center announced that the group had captured 4 supply roads and 19 positions from ISIS. However, clashes in the area are still ongoing, according to this version of the events.
Reports are appearing from multiple sources that the US-led coalition and ISIS are holding negotiations behind the scenes. According to some sources, the sides even reached an initial agreement, which would allow the terrorist group’s leaders and fighters to withdraw to an unspecified area. The sources believe that this area will be the al-Anbar desert in western Iraq or the desert near al-Tanaf in southeastern Syria, where a U.S. base is located. The families of ISIS members and injured ISIS fighters will be allowed to enter the areas controlled by the SDF.