The US-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) reportedly “destroyed a fleet of 168 ISIL [Islamic State] oil tanker trucks near Palmyra, Syria” on Dec. 8. According to an OIR statement, it is “the largest air strike of its kind to date.”
The Islamic State launched a large-scale offensive against the Syrian regime and allied militiamen near Palmyra on the same day. The so-called caliphate has repeatedly clashed with Bashar al Assad’s men in the Homs province since losing control of the ancient city in March. But the jihadists’ new assault appears to have created a target of opportunity for the US and its allies, as the Islamic State was seeking to capitalize on its renewed push into the oil and gas-rich region.
“The Coalition continues to forcefully prosecute the air war on ISIL revenue capability,” Col. John L. “JD” Dorrian, the OIR spokesman, said in a statement. “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.”
OIR says the airstrikes “resulted in estimated lost revenue of more than $2 million.” Several of the airstrikes have been documented in videos released by OIR.
Amaq News Agency, an Islamic State propaganda arm, has released a stream of videos, photos and statements documenting the battle. Amaq has also produced a map (seen on the right) purportedly showing the group’s gains. According to some unconfirmed reports, the Islamic State has already reentered Palmyra itself.
Amaq has released numerous short statements concerning the “martyrdom operations” (suicide attacks) and other tactics employed. Two longer reports, posted on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, document the jihadists’ perspective on the heavy fighting that has transpired thus far.
On Dec. 8, Amaq reported that “Islamic State forces launched a wide rang[ing] and surprise attack…against the Syrian Army and the Shiite militias on a battlefront running 200km in the eastern countryside of Homs.”
Amaq claims that the jihadists completely captured the town of Huwaysis in the first hours of the battle and also “took over eight army and militia checkpoints,” as well as the nearby area of Shaer. The gas fields in Shaer have repeatedly changed hands throughout the course of the war, with the Islamic State showcasing the spoils its taken from Shaer’s facilities on multiple occasions. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men also purportedly gained turf near the T4 (Tiyas) airbase. In May, Amaq claimed that the jihadists had destroyed four Russian helicopters and 20 vehicles at the same airbase.
According to Amaq, 50 Syrian Army soldiers were killed at checkpoints at the Shaer gas field and in the nearby town of Huwaysis. Dozens of additional Syrian regime casualties were reported in the follow-up reporting during the first day of the offensive.
Then, on Dec. 9, Amaq claimed that “at least 112 members of Syrian regime forces were killed in battles today, as [Islamic] State fighters seized 3 tanks, a multiple rocket launcher, a field artillery unit, an autocannon, and quantities of ammunition.”
The Muhr Gas Company, as well as other gas and oil fields, purportedly fell to the jihadists. “Syrian regime forces sent a military convoy from Palmyra to attempt to recover the hills near the [Muhr] company,” Amaq reported, “but the Islamic State fighters countered that attempt.” Several additional regime fighters were then killed.
To underscore its control over Muhr, Amaq also produced a video of the facility that includes footage apparently recorded with a small drone. Some of the overhead images can be seen at the end of this article.
It is notoriously difficult to verify war details, especially far away from the battlefields of Homs province.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) has produced its own reports, and many of the details are consistent with Amaq’s propaganda. Casualty counts appear to differ, but SOHR also says that the Syrian regime has suffered significant losses. SOHR has issued several reports saying that dozens of Syrian regime fighters have been killed and Assad’s fighters have also displayed the corpses of dead jihadis.
Screenshots from the Islamic State’s video of the Muhr Gas Company, which was seized from Bashar al Assad’s regime. The jihadists apparently used a small drone to record some of the footage: