With both the Syrian Army and the US backed SDF militias advancing on the city of Deir el-Zour held by Islamic State fighters, the U.S.-led coalition has said they are says monitoring the Syrians to ensure they do not cross a deconfliction zone established across the city.
“We do monitor and watch where they are and where they are going at the same time as they move closer to the middle of thae Euphrates Valley,” Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against IS, told VOA on Thursday.
Dillon added that the coalition warplanes were continuing to strike IS positions in Deir el-Zour as the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) partnered with local tribal militias in preparation for an attack from the northeast of the deconfliction line.
The deconfliction zone in Deir el-Zour was established between the U.S. and Russia in late 2015 to separate their areas of operation in Syria and prevent inadvertent clashes between the two sides.
The vast line starts from the town of Tabqa, roughly 45 kilometers west of IS’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, and extends parallel to the Euphrates River that runs across Deir el-Zour toward Al-Bukamal town bordering Iraq. It has divided Deir el-Zour province and city into two parts; SDF operates north and east of the line, and the Syrian government troops and their allied militias are in the west and south.
Earlier last week, the Syrian army moved into the western part of the city where Islamic State fighters still hold pockets of resistance inside. There are some estimated 2500-armed fighters in the province that is rich with oil. The province is one of the IS’ last remaining IS strongholds in Syria and stretches to the Iraqi border.
More than a million civilians live in the area of Deir el-Zour and with attacks by the Syrian army, supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Russian airstrikes against the IS fighters, concern for civilian casualties remains high.
The upcoming battle for the city is expected to be a long, drawn out affair.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia