Al-Sukhnah… “Umm al-Qura” where “Islamic State” is trying to expand influence

An ambush by IS fighters targeting a convoy of the Syrian regime forces in al-Sukhnah area, in Homs eastern countryside, 17 November 2019 (Amaq Agency)


Under the title “The Attrition Saga,” the media office of the so-called Islamic State (IS) released a new detailed recorded video about its military operations against regime forces in the countryside of the Syrian Badia, in an attempt to transmit a notification message that it is still present.

After reviewing the video by Enab Baladi, what was strikingly remarkable is that most operations carried out by IS took place in the Syrian Badia, especially al-Sukhnah region, in the northern countryside of Homs, which IS named “Umm al-Qura” (Mother of towns) after taking control of it in 2015.

The video shows attacks on Syrian army forces’ vehicles and convoys, along with some executions by shooting and beheading of fighters that the IS claimed to be members of the Syrian regime or the Iranian-backed militias of Liwa al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade).

The new video shows the IS members on sub-roads of the Syrian Badia, launching sudden attacks, using medium weapons, and Konkurs anti-armor missiles.

Al-Sukhnah city, the second city in the Syrian Badia (after Palmyra), which is administratively affiliated to Homs province, has become the center of IS operations in the Syrian Badia in the past few months.

Last February, the Islamic State-affiliated news agency, Amaq, published a video report of attacks on Syrian regime forces near al-Sukhnah city. The report included images of the regime’s killed members after battles with IS fighters.

On 17 November last year, the IS organization announced that a number of the Syrian regime forces had been killed and injured in an ambush inside the al-Sukhnah area. This announcement came weeks after the killing of its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a US bombing raid in Idlib, northern Syria.

According to the field control map, IS fighters holed up in a pocket between Homs and Deir Ezzor, precisely on the outskirts of al-Sukhnah region to the borders of al-Bukamal and al-Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor.

Map of field control in the Syrian Badia – 3 April 2020 (Livemap)

During the past years, al-Sukhnah city witnessed several hit and run battles between IS and the regime forces. Consequently, leading to IS’s full control of the city in May 2015, which was a gateway to hold control over Palmyra afterward.

IS replaced the name of al-Sukhna by “Umm al-Qura” (Mother of Towns). Back then, it published images showing delegations of the city’s tribes in a large tent pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi, which the pro-Islamic State media outlet considered it to be “a pledge of allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful.”

The IS organization held control over the city for nearly two years until a military campaign was launched by the Syrian regime backed by Russian forces. The regime regained control over it in August 2017; thus, IS lost its last military fortress in the countryside of Homs.

During the past months, IS holed up itself in a pocket between Homs and Deir Ezzor provinces, from the outskirts of al-Sukhnah region to the borders of al-Bukamal and al-Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor.

IS uses these areas as small and sporadic pockets to launch quick and rapid offensives against al-Assad forces, throughout the Syrian Badia, aiming primarily to seizure their weapons and ammunition.

The most prominent of these offensives was the one on 22 March of last year, when IS announced the killing of six Russian soldiers in an ambush in al-Sukhna desert, in the eastern countryside of Homs. While the other offensive took place on 8 April of the same year, resulted in the killing of two Russian officers as displayed by Amaq agency.

This development comes amid warnings of IS resurgence amid the world’s preoccupation with the pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a report entitled “Contending with IS in the Time of Coronavirus” published on 31 March, “The International Crisis Group” urged the world to brace itself for new offensives by the organization, which is poised to capitalize on the chaos caused by the virus instead of being affected.

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