Three Russian soldiers were allegedly killed when a roadside bomb exploded in northern Syria, according to Amaq News Agency, which is one of the Islamic State’s main propaganda arms.
The claim could not be independently verified. [Update: The Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, later denied that the soldiers were killed as Amaq alleged. He claimed that the photos were taken from a cellphone stolen inside Russian territory.]
Amaq posted a series of photos and documents that it says were taken from a slain Russian’s cell phone. The images can be seen below.
Amaq has also produced a short video allegedly showing the charred remains of the Russians’ vehicle. Screen shots from the video can also be seen at the end of this article.
The Islamic State says the improvised explosive device (IED) was implanted along the Ithriya-Raqqa road, which connects the provinces of Hama and Raqqa. The road has been the site of multiple clashes between the jihadists and forces loyal to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Amaq has produced a steady stream of propaganda from the fighting.
The Syrian regime, backed by Shiite militias and Russian airpower, launched a new offensive along the Ithriya-Raqqa road earlier this month. The Russian-Syrian-Iranian axis was advancing toward the Tabqah miliary airport, which lies along the road and is considered a strategically valuable location, until the Islamic State counterattacked.
In recent days, the so-called caliphate has retaken key areas along the road, including oil fields and checkpoints.
Amaq reported on June 19 and 20 that the Islamic State’s fighters had captured the Thawrah and Sufyan oilfields. It appears that sources inside Assad’s military confirmed the losses to Al Masdar News, which reported that Syrian soldiers and allied militiamen were forced to retreat back toward Ithriya.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also independently reported that the Assad regime was forced to pull back after 15 days of fighting.
Amaq claimed that the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations” during the battle caused dozens of casualties.
“Syrian regime forces and Shiite militias sustain at least 20 deaths, in addition to a destroyed tank, after the martyrdom operation at the Thawrah oilfield, south of Tabqah,” Amaq said in a “Breaking News” update released on social media on June 19.
A second suicide attack near Thawrah that same day allegedly killed “12 Syrian regime soldiers,” according to Amaq. And still another update said that an additional 7 Syrian regime soldiers were killed during the fighting.
Amaq followed up with reports from the Sufyan oilfield on June 20. “A large number of Syrian regime soldiers and Shiite militiamen flees [sic] from the Sufyan oilfield and its checkpoint, south of Tabqah, while Islamic State fighters take up their pursuit,” Amaq reported.
The Islamic State’s gains have come despite Russian air support. The jihadists say that the Russians have carried out dozens of airstrikes near Thawrah and elsewhere in the past 4 days.
Assad’s regime and its allies frequently clash with the Islamic State.
Just hours before reporting the alleged deaths of three Russian soldiers, Amaq claimed that the jihadists launched a “surprise” attack on a position controlled by the Syrian military, Russian forces, and allied militias. According to Amaq, 42 fighters were killed in the assault, which utilized one of the Islamic State’s suicide bombers. As with Amaq’s other claims, the casualty figure cannot be confirmed.
Images posted by Amaq allegedly taken from a cellphone owned by a Russian soldier
Screenshots from Amaq’s video purportedly showing the Russians’ vehicle:
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