Pro-Syrian regime ground forces, backed by Russian airpower, have taken the Islamic State-held town of al Mayadin in Deir Ezzor province, eastern Syria. They laid siege earlier this month and captured it this past weekend, facing relatively light resistance. They are preparing to cross the Euphrates River, heading toward the Omar oil fields according to Syrian propaganda.
Previously, the Islamic State used Mayadin as a major hub and its personnel retreated there as the group lost ground in Iraq and Syria. The US-led coalition has run a targeted air campaign in and around Mayadin.
The pro-Syrian regime alliance has signaled its plan to conquer the remaining strongholds of the Sunni-jihadist group in Syria. Shiite jihadists led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are not only instrumental but count for the bulk of the offensive that includes Syrian government forces and pro-Assad Tiger Forces. Last summer, the IRGC launched ballistic missile toward Islamic State positions around Mayadin in revenge for June’s terrorist attacks in Tehran.
Leading up to the Mayadin offensive, a commander in the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division spoke with IRGC-affiliated Tasnim. He said the forces were launching an offensive from the recently-captured Deir Ezzor city and that they would continue marching down the Euphrates Valley toward al Mayadin and the border town of Al Bukamal, which sits on a major highway between Iraq and Syria. Damascus held the border crossing until insurgents shut it down in 2012.
“We are moving toward al Mayadin, and soon with the conquer of this area and reaching the Bukamal border, the promise of the dear Haj Qassem [Soleimani] for the destruction of DAESH [Islamic State] by the sons of Fatimah [daughter of Prophet Muhammad] in the Fatemiyoun Division, resistance warriors and Syrian army will be fulfilled,” the Afghan commander said. He was referring to last week’s statement by Soleimani, the chief of the IRGC Qods Force, in which he had vowed that the Islamic State would be destroyed in three months.
On Oct. 13, the day when pro-regime forces declared victory in Mayadin, IRGC social and formal media announced the death of a senior Iranian commander during the offensive. Brigadier General Abdollah Khosravi was commander of the Fatehin Battalion, an Iran-based special unit of the IRGC Basij paramilitary that undergoes advanced military training and has deployed to Syria. Last year, the IRGC announced the expansion of the Fatehin unit beyond the capital Tehran and across the country. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, IRGC to expand Basij special forces]
The IRGC has also publicized more drone strikes against the Islamic state. It claims these strikes occurred somewhere in the Syrian desert between T-2 pumping station and al Mayadin. The footage corresponded with that of an Iranian Shahed-129 drone. The IRGC has increasingly publicized its drone strikes during the offensives in eastern Syria to showcase its role in fighting the Islamic State and project an image that it is an “anti-terrorism” force. [see FDD’s Long War Journal report, IRGC promotes more drone strikes against the Islamic State]
The pro-regime forces are racing to capture territory and oil and water resources by the Euphrates River and the border area with Iraq and deny those areas to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Iran furthermore seeks to re-assert land routes between it and Syria.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces and allies backed by the US have launched offensives toward the Al Qaim border crossing, which is adjacent to Al Bukamal.
Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.