Islamic State advances on Deir al Zour airport

Video from an Islamic State-affiliated YouTube account showing fighters touring a recently captured village near the airport. Viewer discretion advised

The Islamic State has recently launched an offensive to take the airport in the provincial capital of Deir al Zour, which is the last major military outpost for the Syrian Army in the province.

On Dec. 5, the Islamic State captured the al Jafra village on the outskirts of the airport. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that after the village fell, the Islamic State reached the airport gates, prefacing the current siege. The SOHR also reported that “37 fighters from ISIS and 30 soldiers from the regime” were killed while fighting in al Jafra.

Several Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts also noted on Dec. 8 that the jihadist group was able to breach the walls of the airport via a suicide car bomb and that fighting ensued inside the facility. However, this claim has not been independently verified.

As Syrian forces battle the Islamic State at the airport, the United States and its coalition partners also launched airstrikes near Deir al Zour on Dec 5. The strikes “destroyed three ISIL vehicles, an ISIL excavator and struck an ISIL training camp,” according to US Central Command.

The airport, which is one of the last Syrian government strongholds in the province, is a crucial hub for regime activities in the area. If the Islamic State is able to overrun it, the regime would be unable to provide close air support to its soldiers in the city and the surrounding areas. The jihadist group’s seizure of the airport would also hamper supply lines for regime soldiers in Deir al Zour; however, as the government still holds the Damascus-Tadmur (Palmyra)-Deir al Zour highway, loss of the airport would not stop all aid and resupply to Syrian Army forces.

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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3 Comments

  • m3fd2002 says:

    I’ve been watching this one closely. Looks like ISIL has rendered the airstrip unusable at this time. A news blackout since 12/7. That doesn’t bode well for SAA. If ISIL breached airbase perimeter they probably damaged significant amounts of aircraft on the ground. At a minimum, it’s in mortar range. Time will tell. The Kobani front is stagnant, even with US airstrikes, the Kurds haven’t been able to dislodge ISIL from the urban core. ISIL still has the initiative.

  • Jason Blaster says:

    Part of the problem as I see it with this particular region, with the IS, and related factions as well is that they seem to be able to more rapidly adapt their tacticts and strategies based on who they face, what the intent is, and where they are operating. I have started to see numerous videos on other sites that are showing the Islamists using drones for various purposes. The most effective of which seems to me to be that they are correcting their indirect fires with the use of drones in real time. I highly douby the SAA is doing anything of the sort, and it becomes harder and harder to maintain a tenable posistion as the indirect moves from harassing fire to effective fire. They are using rockets, mortars, and “hell cannons” from defilade, at low risk of accurate return fire, while achieving the same kind of accuracy and effectivness associated with higher risk positions and types of fires. If the SAA can’t gain the intiative, and keep the IS on their heels trying to keep up and adapt to their movements, the Assad regime, and really Syria and the SAA as a whole, are dead men walking. It’s only a matter of time.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Jason Blaster,
    I would agree that the Islamic State is quite deadly against regime forces in action, they’ve proved that before. But I am skeptical that they can advance on that front while being bogged down on multiple other fronts, combined with airstrikes every single day against their positions.
    The Islamic State faces off against the “SAA” in Syria on a flashpoint basis, and even then, they never completely succeed. The regime has adapted to every single situation thrown at it, and I don’t think the Islamic State can be as successful as you predict they will be on that front considering the odds they face against them.

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