Is the Anti-ISIS Coalition Planning Something Big in West Daraa?



Enab Baladi explains that the recent coalition attacks on ISIS-linked fighters are likely the beginning of a larger campaign to secure the southern area

Warplanes have escalated their raids on the area of the Yarmouk basin west of Daraa, which is controlled by the Islamic State-affiliated Khalid bin al-Walid Army, bringing to the surface possible scenarios the area could witness.

The beginning of the escalation occurred when the town of Shajara west of Daraa was bombed on Aug. 17, followed days later by a drone strike on a car belonging to the Khalid Army, killing three members. This came amid reports claiming the Free Syrian Army was preparing for a possible attack supported by the international coalition or Jordan, or perhaps Israel.

There has been no official statement from any party regarding who controlled the plane which bombed the area. However, Enab Baladi’s sources said the strike was likely carried out by the anti-ISIS coalition. Especially the attack on Shajara, which resulted in the death of dozens, including the emir of the jihadi faction Abou Teem Ankhal.

The sources believed the coalition was behind the attack due to the fact that the Khalid Army has been on the United Nations “terrorist” list for weeks. In addition, U.S. aircraft carrier George W Bush arrived to the shores of Haifa, in the framework of coalition operations against ISIS. It is the first time an aircraft carrier of this size has arrived to Israel since the year 2000.

According to what military sources reported to Enab Baladi, a ground attack led by Free Syrian Army factions from inside Daraa, backed by coalition aircraft, is the first of the possible scenarios.

The sources also discussed a land attack from outside the borders, which would open multiple fronts against the Khalid Army, while the third scenario could involve the expansion of strike operations to include the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which controls the “strategic” Tel al-Jababiya, adjacent to the Yarmouk basin.

According to local sources in the area, a plane has been seen entering from Jordan and flying above the area, including over Israel, during the last few days without any official announcement, placing question marks around what is being plotted for the region and raising speculation around its future.

Three commanders lost by the Khalid Army over last two months

The Khalid bin al-Walid Army lost its first emir, Abou Mohamad al-Maqdissi, on June 7, months after he took over command following the death of his predecessor, Abou Hashim al-Idlebi, in October of 2016 by an explosive that targeted his car.

Enab Baladi’s sources say that Maqdissi, who is originally from Daraa, last year announced his defection from the Islamic Muthanna Movement to lead the Khalid Army in the Al-Dumayr region in the eastern Damascus countryside. The Khalid Army left the region for the desert in April 2016 following an agreement with the Syrian regime.

Following Maqdissi’s death, the Khalid Army appointed Mohamed Rifaat al-Rifai (Abou Hashem) as a new commander on June 9. He is from the town of Tel Shihab in the western Daraa countryside.

Rifai previously worked as a military commander for the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and was one of the most important companions of Ali al-Baridi, the brigade’s founder.

On June 29, a Tomahawk missile, which Enab Baladi’s sources say was launched from an American military ship in the Mediterranean, hit a meeting of the army’s leadership, killing Rifai and 10 prominent commanders.

The latest commander to be killed was Rifai’s successor Abou Teem Ankhal, who was killed on Aug. 17 as a result of an airstrike which hit the court of the Shajara town, which is controlled by the jihadi faction, causing the court building to collapse.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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