The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency announced today that the jihadists have launched “an offensive against the Syrian Army and its militants near Palmyra city” in the Homs province. According to another Amaq report, 50 Syrian Army soldiers were killed at checkpoints at the Shaer gas field as well as the nearby town of Huwaysis.
Casualty reports are notoriously difficult to verify. But other sources indicate that dozens of Syrian regime fighters were likely killed or captured.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported “that no less than 26 [Syrian] soldiers were killed by massive attacks” by Islamic State forces in the Homs countryside. A Twitter feed that monitors the situation in Palmyra claimed that “dozens” of regime fighters and militiamen had been sent to the hospital.
A Syrian military source told Al Masdar News that the jihadists used a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) to break through the regime’s defensive line in Huwaysis. Amaq’s reporting seems to corroborate this account, as the outlet reported at least one “martyrdom operation” during the assault.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), a propaganda outlet for Bashar al Assad’s government, also reported on the clashes, but claimed that the offensive has been “thwarted.”
However, the Islamic State’s media machine continues to produce photos and videos from the fighting. One short video purportedly shows a makeshift checkpoint consisting of several tents that was supposedly overrun by the jihadists near Huwaysis. Two screen shots can be seen below:
Another Amaq video allegedly shows a “Syrian Regime Officer” and three others who were captured near Shaer.
Some reports suggest that the Islamic State’s fighters have an eye on capturing the ancient city of Palmyra once again.
The Syrian Army, Russia and their Iranian-backed allies recaptured Palmyra in March. In the eight months since then, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men have repeatedly clashed with the Syrian regime in the Homs province, including near Palmyra.
The so-called caliphate has also taken aim at Russian forces stationed in Homs. In March, the group claimed to have killed five Russian soldiers. Amaq posted both photos and video to back up its report. One of the videos showed a slain Russian soldier’s corpse. In July, the Islamic State downed a Russian helicopter east of Palmyra. And the jihadist organization struck another Russian helicopter with a guided missile near Huwaysis in early November. Amaq produced a striking video of the attack on the chopper. One image from the production can be seen below:
It remains to be seen if the Islamic State’s push leads to lasting gains, or is merely a temporary surge. According to Amaq and independent reporting from outlets such as SOHR, the two sides have repeatedly clashed in Homs province throughout the year.
In fact, the foes have fought at the Shaer gas field and in the town of Huwaysis repeatedly over the course of the multi-sided Syrian war. These locales have repeatedly changed hands. In Nov. 2014, for example, the Islamic State captured the gas field and advertised its spoils. Baghdadi’s loyalists lost control of Shaer, only to return to the fight. In May of this year, the group seized Shaer again and released a series of images from its facilities.