Palmyra Syria – An anonymous military source in Damascus is confirming that a squad of Russian Special Forces along with a large element of the Syrian Arab Army’s ‘Qalamoun Shield’ have arrived at the Russian controlled Et Tifor airbase on the outskirts of the southern Syrian city of Palmyra to turn the tide of the Islamic States recent successful retaking of the region. As all international attention is turned toward Aleppo, intense fighting between Russian Special Forces-backed Syrian forces and ISIS fighters broke out last night along the airbase’s perimeter as the battle for Palmyra enters its 7th day. Now U.S. Central Command(CENTCOM) is confirming that the Islamic State has gained control of a large mass of abandoned weaponry left by Russian forces as they retreated from coordinated attacks from ISIS to recapture Palmyra.
Along with the warehouse-sized weapons cache ISIS now possesses, CENTCOM’s Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commander, LT. General Stephen J. Townsend expressed fears that ISIS may now have a sizable stockpile of anti-aircraft weapons which may include man-portable surface to air missiles or MANPADS. General Townsend stated that:
“We’re watching Palmyra closely. Russian forces and the Syrian government took their eye off the ball and lost Palmyra and will likely try to take it back again. If Russia and Syria don’t strike, we will.”
General Townsend went on to claim that the U.S.-led coalition in Syria is preparing to launch strikes on Palmyra if need be, or if he sees Islamic State fighters moving the newly acquired weapons out of the area.
Complicating CENTCOM’s desire to assist with airstrikes is its inability to delineate friend from foe as the battle lines are constantly changing hands. This hampers mission planning as clear and concise intelligence reporting from Russia isn’t possible. Russia’s focus in the region as of now is maintaining control of its operations center at the Et Tifor airbase as Russian Special Forces along with Syrian Arab Army forces have dug in around the airbase and have been actively repelling continuous savage attacks on the airbase’s perimeter from the Islamic State by way of vehicle-borne improvised explosive delivery devices or VBIEDs and suicide vest attacks. As the attacks on the airbase increase in frequency, Russian aircraft continue to fly sorties bombing ISIS positions within Palmyra. To the north of the airbase, elements of the Syrian governmental forces launched a counter-offensive into the Tiyas Mountain region, punching a hole into ISIS defenses and recapturing the area along while also rescuing an unknown Syria Arab Army battalion besieged on all sides by Islamic State fighters.
Amaq News, the Islamic State’s propaganda machine touted ISIS’s celebratory claims of its capture of a Russian base by posting pictures and videos on social media showing crates after crates of AK-47’s, ammunition, several pieces of heavy anti-aircraft cannons and artillery, as well as a motorpool full of light through heavily armed armored vehicles and tanks. Amaq News also triumphantly reported that these weapons caches have already begun being transferred to the city of al-Bab in the in north, just east of Aleppo and to the self-declared de facto capital of the Islamic State, Raqqah in the northeast where an influx of ISIS fighters are ending up from the battlefields of Mosul in Iraq. Russian intelligence along with Russian President Validimir Putin claim that up to 5,000 ISIS fighters that attacked Palmyra came from Mosul due to the U.S. providing what they call ‘safe passage’ for ISIS fighters to escape into Syria with the intent of further flooding Syria with Islamic State forces and destabilizing Russian and Syrian regimes efforts of routing ISIS from Syrian lands. Palmyra is a highly strategic control point for both the Russian-backed Syria Arab Army and ISIS. The city is a central hub of Syria’s spider-like network of roadways which would allow ISIS to rapidly deploy forces to city centers such as Aleppo and Damascus as well as the financial windfall ISIS could accrue from the lucrative black market sales of oil and gas within Palmyra’s multiple refineries in the region. Russia and the Syrian Arab Army have shown that they have every intent on keeping this vital piece of real estate and will continue to slug it out with the Islamic State in the coming weeks to regain control of Palmyra and its surroundings.
Feature Photo: Twitter