On Friday the 12th of May, Assad’s Forces and allied militias began to march towards al-Tanf along the Iraqi borders after securing “Muthalath Al Badia” (The Desert Triangle) which is at the crossroads between Baghdad, Jordan and Damascus in the Syrian Desert.
The region represents a starting potential battleground in Deir ez-Zor province towards which internationally- and regionally-supported forces march, hence the possibility of confrontation with the “Free Army” factions in the area.
The Forces moved forward to seize “Muthalath Dada”, located east of Al-Sabe’ Biyar, reaching Tulūl al Muḩaddad on which it has tightened its grip amidst continuing clashes and exchanged bombardments among the conflicting parties in the region.
The march came after “Lions of the East Army” and “Martyrs’ Brigade of the two villages”, under the banner of the “Free Army”, launched an attack against the Regime’s gatherings in Al-Sabe’ Biyar and Dada on Tuesday 9th of May, two days after the arrival of the Regime’s Forces.
However, Assad’s control over the Dada Triangle which separates the eastern Homs countryside from the eastern Damascus countryside reaching “Al Muḩaddad”, east of Al Muthalath, secured the road junction that connects the international roads of Iraq, Jordan and Damascus in favor of the Regime.
The Regime considers al-Tanf junction an objective of its battles, with its supporters campaigning for linking its areas of control with the Iraqi borders.
Saad Al-Haj, a member of the media bureau of “Lions of the East Army”, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the current scene “consists of tides movements and exchanged shelling”.
He considers that “the nature of desert battles imposes this kind of movement”, noting that “rarely does a direct confrontation with the System occur, only in case of an invasion”.
According to Al-Haj, the opposition factions are preparing to overpower the Assad Forces in the region. He clarified “we are working on that area”. However, he did not talk about other details as they are “war strategies”, hoping “the Regime won’t step on our toes to reach al-Tanf, and we will try to check that by all means”.
On the 20th of April, the factions took control over Al-Alyaniah, east of Al Katiba Al-Mahjoura, reaching the north of Al Muthalath while the Regime controls Ql Ghariba and Al-Sein Airport reaching Al Dhamir and Otaybah airports, to the west of the opposition areas and the areas where the Islamic State currently rules.
Last April, factions of the operations room of the Syrian Al-Hamad gained ground within the third phase of the battle “Sarajna Al-Jiyad Litathiri Al-Hamad” (meaning we have mounted our horses to cleanse Al-Hamad) at the expense of the “Islamic State” organisation. The objectives of the battle were opening the road to the eastern Qalamoun area, besieged by the Assad Forces and those of ISIS.
However, the recent movement of the Assad forces represents an obstacle to the “Free Army”s attempt to control the entire desert, and it also makes things more complicated especially that the extension of the eastern countryside of As-Suwayda reaching the border area with Jordan, Al-Tanf, is under the guardianship of the United States, Britain and Jordan. They support factions of the “Free Army” against ISIS, reaching Abu Kamal in Deir ez-Zor, to “cleanse” Jordan’s border from the IS organisation”.
Field data indicate that these forces are setting up to sustain their presence in the region by establishing a military base in Al-Tanf, run by British an Us forces, besides Jordan’s talk about the establishment of a nearby air base.
Four Forces Racing towards Deir ez-Zor
Decisive months await the capital of the eastern region of Syria, Deir ez-Zor, amid a race between local and regional forces to repulse the “Islamic State”.
At a time when influential countries are trying to freeze the battle between the opposition and the Regime, they are also supporting movements to reduce the territory of ISIS which controls 40% of the Syrian land.
Fast Movement of the “Free Army”
In a quick movement, the “Free Army” fighters crossed wide territories of the Syrian desert to enter the administrative border of Deir ez-Zor, from the South along the Iraqi border.
The movement comes after the battles of the “Free Army” factions in the Syrian desert, trying to free eastern Qalamoun from the siege. The most prominent factions in the region are: Lions of the East Army, Forces of Martyr Ahmad Al-Abdo, Jaish Maghawir Al-Thawra, Army of Free Tribes and the New Syrian Army.
The factions receive support from the operations room of the assistance coordination (MOC) which includes Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
There were reports about the direct involvement of Jordanian, British and American ground forces in the region’s battles, but military analysts were likely to claim the support to be limited to consultation, planning and training and providing weapons capable of titling favour for the factions.
Besides the field movement, some of the “Free Army” factions hope to enter the battle from northern Aleppo. In March, they announced that they would join the Deir ez-Zor military council in order to “liberate” the province from the “State”, the Syrian Regime and the “Syrian Democratic Forces”.
Assad Forces Trying to Block the Road
Assad forces are also trying to block the road for the “Free Army” factions by seeking to seize the Damascus-Baghdad road and checking any movement coming from the desert towards Al Deir.
In the last few days, supporters of the Syrian Regime have launched a campaign through social media under the title “lavender to Deir ez-Zor” accompanied by maps of the Assad Forces’ strategies to move towards the province.
The Regime pre-empted the operations by announcing the “Al Jazira and Euphrates Assembly” from Damascus by the end of last year. He said that the people of the eastern region began to move to repulse ISIS.
The Syrian Regime still maintains a nail in the heart of Deir ez-Zor city, for it still controls three neighbourhoods: Al-Jura, Al-Koussour and Harabesh besides the military airport that is besieged in these areas of where the “State” rules and depends on Russian air supply.
“SDF” inside Deir ez-Zor
The “Syrian Democratic Forces,” backed by the US, managed to enter the administrative borders of Deir ez-Zor from the Northwest as part of its operations to isolate the “State” in Raqqa.
The forces, of which Kurdish units are central pillars, include fighters from Deir ez-Zor, associated with the region’s military council and the elite forces of the Syrian opponent Ahmad al-Jarba.
The election of Riyadh Darar, originally from Deir ez-Zor, as a joint Chairman in the “Syrian Democratic Council” in February was another indication of the troops’ camp in the province.
Darar announced earlier to Enab Baladi that “Deir ez-Zor come in the second place after the emancipation of Raqqa considering that “the presence of the Regime in the city calls for the emancipation process which will be in cooperation with the Arab Tribes”.
However, military analysts rule out the entry of the troops as spearheads in the battles of Al-Deir for two main reasons: Its engagement in the battles of Raqqa that is expected to turn into a long attrition warfare and the Arab-Kurdish allergy in the region.
Iraqis to Syria
The military commander in the militia of the Iraqi “Popular Assembly Forces”, Karim Al-Nouri, said that the battles against ISIS will move to the Syrian border of al Bukamal.
This came in a statement in “Al-Hayat” newspaper of London, last April; he explained “after the emancipation of Al-Baghaj and Al-Qayrawan (west of Mosul) we have opened a full line towards Syria”, we carried on with controlling ISIS’s most important roads of supply and besieging it in Mosul”.
It seems that the assembly wants to erect bodies in support of the Syrian Regime in the province because both parties’ interests overlap, with both being supported by Tehran. The leader in the Assembly and the head of “Badr Organization”, Hadi Al-Amiri, insisted on this by saying that “the Syrian Government, headed by Bashar Al-Assad, invited the leaders of the Assembly to enter Syria after the emancipation of Iraq”.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, issued early last March orders to his forces to attack ISIS camps within Syria He announced: “we ordered the air forces to attack the terrorist sites of ISIS in Husaibah and Al Bukamal inside the Syrian territory, which were responsible for the recent bombings in Baghdad”.
Deir ez-Zor is considered as a major strategic asset, for the one who dominates it shall hold the key to the eastern region of Syria and supplement his capital with huge oil reserves and establishes checkpoints on the road from Tehran to Damascus.