A bus waiting to transport ISIS fighters from the Syria-Lebanon border on August 28. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – At the request of Russia, Coalition surveillance aircraft have left the area where they were monitoring the movements of an ISIS convoy in the Syrian desert. Russia made the request as part of deconfliction as Syrian forces on the ground continue to advance on Deir ez-Zor.
“To ensure safe de-confliction of efforts to defeat ISIS, coalition surveillance aircraft departed the adjacent airspace at the request of Russian officials during their assault on [Deir ez-Zor],” the Coalition announced in a statement Friday evening.
Pro-Syrian regime forces advanced on the ground, passing the 11 buses of ISIS fighters and families Friday morning, the statement detailed.
"The regime's advance past the convoy underlines continued Syrian responsibility for the buses and terrorists. As always, we will do our utmost to ensure that the ISIS terrorists do not move toward the border of our Iraqi partners," said Brig. Gen. Jon Braga, director of operations for the Coalition.
The ISIS convoy originally consisted of more than 300 ISIS fighters with families on 17 buses that were evacuated from the Syria-Lebanon border in a deal with the Syrian army and Hezbollah that intended to relocate the fighters to Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
The Coalition and Iraq denounced the deal that would bring hundreds of militants to the Iraqi border along the Middle Euphrates River Valley, home to the largest concentration of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The Coalition vowed to prevent the convoy from reaching the border, using airstrikes to crater the road preventing forward movement of the buses and targeting any ISIS vehicles that approached the convoy. The Coalition refrained from hitting the buses themselves because of the presence of women and children.
The Coalition denied reports that hundreds of militants from the convoy had made it to Iraq and said they continued to monitor 11 of the buses stuck in the eastern desert after six of them returned to the Palmyra area.
Coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon told Rudaw TV Friday morning, "We will make sure that no ISIS fighters get close to the Iraqi border that is a part of this 'deal.'"
He said they had struck “more than 40 ISIS vehicles that have come to assist these buses and we've killed more than 85 ISIS fighters since the beginning of this event on the 29th of August.”
On Tuesday, Syrian forces announced they had reached Deir ez-Zor in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, breaking the siege on a Syrian Army enclave that had held out against ISIS for over three years.
State-run SANA news reported that the Syrian army, backed by Syrian and Russian airstrikes, established control over a number of towns and hills southwest of Deir ez-Zor while forces in the city fortified their positions as they prepared to extend their territory.
The Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is expected to announce on Saturday the start of an operation to oust ISIS from areas north of Deir ez-Zor, Reuters reported citing a senior SDF official.