Assad regime and Islamic State battle for control of Shaer gas field in Homs

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Islamic State fighters overlook at a facility at the Shaer gas field.

The Islamic State and forces loyal to Bashar al Assad’s regime are battling for control of the Shaer gas field in Syria’s Homs province once again. The two sides have fought at Shaer and other nearby gas facilities on multiple occasions since 2014.

Amaq News Agency, which reports on the so-called caliphate’s fighting, has posted updates on the clashes at Shaer over the last few days.

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“Islamic State fighters took control of the Shaer Gas Company in the countryside of Homs after the collapse of all Syrian regime checkpoints west of the company,” one of Amaq’s updates, issued earlier today, reads. A “martyrdom operation” reportedly “hit” the “last Syrian regime positions west of the Shaer Gas Company” before it was seized. An earlier update noted that the jihadists have overrun 13 checkpoints surrounding the facility. Amaq says that the Islamic State’s men have captured various arms and tanks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has confirmed some of the Islamic State’s claims. SOHR reported this morning that the group was “attacking Shaer gas field for the 3rd day” in a row. The jihadists advanced behind two “suicide cars” (meaning vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs), “taking control of more than 50% of the gas field” as “regime forces pulled back.” At least one of the “martyrs” has already been identified in the Islamic State’s propaganda.

Previously, on May 1, SOHR’s sources said that 16 Syrian soldiers had been killed during the fighting at Shaer and in the area of Huwaysis, which is also in the eastern countryside of Homs. Seven Islamic State fighters were eliminated during the clashes. Amaq described it as a “major assault on Syrian regime forces.”

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has released footage purportedly showing seven Russian helicopters heading to Shaer in support of the ground forces. The video was posted online on May 2 by Al Masdar News. But the Russian choppers haven’t stymied the Islamic State’s offensive, assuming recent reports are accurate.

Shaer has changed hands multiple times since mid-2014.

In early July 2014, according to SOHR and the Associated Press, “at least 115 Syrian troops, guards and workers” were killed when the Islamic State initially overran the gas field. Some sources indicated that the so-called caliphate mustered 2,000 fighters for the assault. The reported death toll at Shaer climbed in the weeks that followed, reaching “at least 270 soldiers, guards and staff” loyal to Assad.

The Syrian army quickly reclaimed Shaer during that first battle, but the Islamic State’s offensive in Homs and elsewhere that same month came with a heavy toll. “At least 1,100 soldiers and pro-Assad fighters” were eliminated after the Islamic State “intensified its attacks against government forces” in July 2014, according to Reuters, which cited a tally compiled by SOHR.

However, the Islamic State didn’t give up on Shaer. In late October 2014, the group launched an effort to regain control of the gas field and the surrounding area. By early November, the jihadists were claiming victory, publishing a set of photos that documented their control over key facilities in the vicinity. But the victory was short-lived, as Assad’s regime reclaimed Shaer just a few weeks later.

Shaer’s gas is used to generate electricity for Damascus’s suburbs. Sources connected to the Assad government have said that the Islamic State’s control over the area has contributed to disruptions in the capital’s power supply. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men have also attacked natural gas pipelines running from Homs into Damascus.

Given the back and forth at Shaer over the past two years, it wouldn’t be surprising if the fighting is far from finished. The SAA is already claiming to have regained the momentum, but the claim cannot be independently verified at this time.

Elsewhere in Homs, the Islamic State says it overran a checkpoint northeast of Palmyra, which was recaptured by Assad and his allies earlier this year. Several Syrian soldiers were killed, according to Amaq, and another was captured. The jihadists have released a set of photos showing the Syrian soldier being dragged by his head.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Arjuna says:

    This seems like a prize worth fighting for. Gas is good. Jihadis are bad.
    Do you believe that the Assad admin and the IS made a secret deal to hand back Palmyra?
    How about the secret oil sales to Turkey happening whenever the Russians aren’t bombing the oil trucks? With Allies like Turkey, the West doesn’t need enemies.


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