ISIS Launches Counterattack After Syrian Regime Regains Control of Aleppo

Islamic State terrorists recapture oil fields in central Syria, city of Palmyra (Updated)

Aleppo

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching through the streets of east Aleppo / AP

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Aleppo, Syria’s largest and wealthiest city fell back under the control of the Syrian regime Tuesday amid reports that the Syrian soldiers murdered as many as 82 civilians during Tuesday’s clearing of buildings in east Aleppo. Meanwhile, in a dramatic setback to the Syrian regime, the Islamic State terrorist group recaptured the oil field in central Syria and the city of Palmyra on Sunday. Heavy clashes continue Wednesday 25 miles west of Palmyra for control of the strategically important T-4 airbase. ISIS launched several suicide vest bombers and bomb vehicles against the Syrian forces at the airbase but  failed to break the base perimeter according to Iranian media.

The attack of 4,000 terrorists who mounted a sustained assault on Palmyra from the northern, eastern, and southern fronts for three days may have been aimed at claiming a soft target away from the Aleppo campaign. In Aleppo, the Syrian army, supported by Russian airstrikes, has removed ISIS and the other anti-regime forces from all but five percent of the urban territory in the eastern part of the city

The ISIS advance back into Palmyra is the group's first seizure of a large urban center since the terrorists captured the ancient city in May 2015 and will be a public relations trophy for jihadist media.

Russian and regime forces retreated from the city on Saturday, leaving behind only a few hundred poorly trained National Defense Forces, according to the Institute for the Study of War. The Russian forces, which began constructing a military base on the site of the World Heritage ruins in May, destroyed their equipment and base as they left, but regime forces left behind large quantities of weapons including anti-aircraft artillery, according to Turkish sources. Russian aircraft launched 64 airstrikes near the city during the weekend, and clashes near the city continue.

"Assad doesn't care about Palmyra. He wants Aleppo, Syria's biggest city," Pinhas Inbari, a political analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Israel, said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"The fall of Palmyra demonstrates ISIS's sustained ability to command, control, and resource major operations even as it mounts the defense of Mosul in Iraq and Ar-Raqqa City in Syria," the Institute for the Study of War reported Tuesday.

"Regaining Palmyra is significant psychologically for IS," war reporter Saad Salah Khalis told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday. "It is a way for them to show they still have teeth, and it may be compared to the terrorist attack by 100 fighters in Kirkuk on Oct. 21."

Palmyra, home to the most spectacular Roman ruins in the Middle East, was wrested from ISIS in March and was the venue for a triumphant concert by a Russian symphony orchestra in May. For seven months, the Syrian regime has enjoyed a morale boost from holding Palmyra in a war that has dragged on since 2011, claiming the lives of more than 400,000 soldiers and civilians.

Many observers fear that the Roman artifacts, including a well-preserved amphitheater, may be totally destroyed after the return of the terrorists.

The extensive oil fields surrounding Palmyra are once again in ISIS hands. Fighter bombers from the U.S.-led coalition moved on Dec. 8 to deny oil infrastructure to ISIS by knocking out a fleet of 168 oil tankers near Palmyra.

"The coalition continues to forcefully prosecute the air war on ISIL revenue capability," said Col. John L. "JD" Dorrian, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force –Operation Inherent Resolve. "When ISIL has access to large sums of money, they use it to conduct violent terror attacks against anyone who doesn't share their barbaric ideology."

This most recent strike is believed to be the largest strike of its kind and will result in estimated lost revenue of more than $2 million, according to a press release from Operation Inherent Resolve.

Coalition commanders recently decided to expand airstrikes on oil fields in Syria to include truck convoys and oil field equipment, a State Department energy specialist told a wire service Friday. The reasoning for this change is that the terrorists have destroyed all oil producing infrastructure before ceding it to the opposition. Iraqi authorities are still working to stop oil field fires set near the Qayara oil field 40 miles south of Mosul in Iraq.

"The person who will suffer the most will be President Bashar al-Assad himself, because he has been the purchaser of the oil from IS," said Inbari, the Jerusalem-based analyst.

"IS also sold oil to [Turkish] President Tayyip Erdogan," Inbari said. "The attack on Palmyra may be seen as a way of punishing the Assad regime for pushing to dislodge IS from Aleppo.

"I see evidence of an informal deal between Assad and IS during the last year," Inbari continued. "IS allowed Syrian soldiers to recapture Palmyra in March, and in return, Assad's army allowed IS and Nusra forces to occupy Aleppo and Raqqa."

Update 9:05 A.M.: This post has been updated to reflect new developments.

Douglas Burton

Douglas Burton   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Douglas Burton is an independent writer specializing in terrorism and a former State Department official who served in Iraq.

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