Palmyra Syria – Reports coming out of Russian and Syrian media sources are indicating that Russian Special Forces have been seen joining in the fight to reclaim the strategically vital city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. Russian-led warplanes continue to pound the surrounding area of Palmyra on Monday as reinforcements from the Syria Arab Army flood into the southern city to push out Islamic State fighters in an attempt to stop what could turn into a bloody quagmire that the Assad regime and its Russian allies cannot afford.
Through sources on the ground, Syrian media out of Damascus is reporting that Russian Special Forces are playing a key role in destroying the latest ISIS offensive. Russian SOF have purportedly been actively engaging with ISIS opposition and directing Russian flown attack helicopters as well as warplanes via target designation in the Al-Amiriyah district to include the northwest mountain range of Jabal Tar as well as the Palmyra oil and gas refineries in the east. It is unclear whether the Russian Special Forces were already based at the Et Tifor airbase on the outskirts of the city or accompanied the tribal faction of the Syrian Arab Army(SAA) known as the ‘Qalamoun Shield’ out of Damascus. Elements of the SAA’s 11th and 18th Division along with the National Defense Force(NDF) and the ‘Shaheen Group’ or ‘Tiger Forces’ will join with the Qalamoun Shield to drive the some 4,000 Islamic State fighters out of the oil rich region of Palmyra and back into the desert. But where did ISIS gather such a force from?
On Sunday Russian intelligence officials along with Russia’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation claimed that the Islamic State was making plans to transfer up to 5,000 of its fighters from its forces in Mosul to the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor through the safe passage corridor provided by the United States. Russian intelligence services are eluding that this very corridor is responsible for the most recent attack on the Palmyra region as initial reports from Russian and Syrian intelligence is that up to 4,000 ISIS fighters attacked the city from the directions of both Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor itself. Russian authorities are surmising that the Iraqi-led coalition in the retaking of Mosul have sought the easiest route to victory and the terrorists’ final destination was of little or no concern.
Sergei Demidenko of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANERA) echoed these claims by stating; “Certainly it’s possible (that militants were allowed to leave Mosul), but not in the sense that they wanted to inflict damage on Bashar Assad or Russia. Of course, there is a place for such considerations but they are not the key issue.” Mr Demidenko continued on with his analysis by pointing a finger at the Obama administration. “This battle is part of the information war, to be able to say that they have achieved something in the fight against Daesh(ISIS). This is above all necessary for the Obama administration, to be able to announce some kind of success in this field.”
Russia and Syria will do what they can to secure Palmyra as the region’s oil production which amounts to 30,000 to 40,000 barrels a day is quite the prize. The Islamic State during its occupation of the region in 2015 used these oil fields to set up an industrial-grade illegal oil operation which have found its way into coalition allied countries like Jordan and Turkey, raking in close to $800 million in revenue back to the Islamic State itself. Russia has continued to accuse Turkey of colluding with ISIS in regard to the illegal oil smuggling but as of yet, there is really no concrete evidence to these claims. Turkish President Erdogan maintains his hard-line stance to these accusations and continues to deny these claims as well. The head of the Energy Commission in the Syrian Kurdish subdivision in Rojava, Salman Khalaf stated however that “The only borders open with Daesh(ISIS) are the ones with Turkey.” Mowaffak Rubaie, a former Iraqi national security advisor was more diplomatic “No insurgent group, whether it’s the Islamic State or not, can survive without a neighboring country either directly supporting it or turning a blind eye to it,” he said. “The Turks have to come clean and be on the side of counter-terrorism in the region, full stop.”
Feature Photo: SANA