Syrian government forces celebrate in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor on September 11. Photo: George Ourfalian | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian government forces have seized approximately 85 percent of the country’s territory from ISIS and opposition forces following almost seven years of conflict in the region, Russia’s Defense Department stated on Tuesday.
General Alexander Lapin, Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria told reporters that the Syrian government must still clear the remaining 15 percent of the country from ISIS militants who occupy approximately 27,000 square-kilometers.
“As of today, 85 percent of the Syrian territory was liberated from illegal armed formations,” Lapis said. “To completely destroy Daesh some 27,000 square kilometers of the republic’s territory remain to be liberated,” he added using another term for ISIS.
Backed by Iran and Russia, Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad has taken control of large swathes of territory in the western cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs within the past year.
Russia has been providing air support for Assad since 2015. The Syrian civil war began in 2011 and ISIS rose to its peak in 2014, when it controlled about half of the country.
Syrian troops with the assistance of Iranian-backed fighters have pushed ISIS out of central Homs near the border of Lebanon and are now heading east to Deir ez-Zor province and the oil-rich and geo-strategic Middle Euphrates River Valley.
Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have concurrently secured much off its border with Syria, recently in Nineveh province. ISIS still maintains a presence in the Al Qaim-Al Bukamal crossing, which is within the river valley.
To the north, the US-led international coalition has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) against ISIS. Since August 2014, local coalition partners have retaken approximately 42,000 square-kilometers, or about 77 percent of the territory ISIS once held in Syria, according to recent statistics provided to the Rudaw English by the coalition. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) comprise about half of the SDF’s forces.
In ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, the SAC and the SDF retook the Great Mosque last week. The Coalition called the capturing “a milestone in the ongoing battle to defeat ISIS in Raqqah and all of Syria.”
Fierce clashes continue amid concerns for the civilian population in Raqqa, where the SDF are in control of about 65 percent of the city.
The SDF announced on Saturday the launch of its Jazira Storm operation to drive ISIS militants out of Deir ez-Zor province from the north and east along the Khabur River Valley.
The Deir ez-Zor Civil Council met on Monday, according to the SDF. The council is comprised of tribal leaders, social, political and cultural actors, and dignitaries. The statement announced an initiative for young locals to join the SDF ranks.
The SDF operation is proceeding simultaneous to one on the city of Deir ez-Zor itself led by the Syrian Army with Russia’s assistance.
State media SANA reported Syrian troops had reached the military airport east of the city on Saturday and expanded their control in the area surrounding al-Jafra village on the southeastern outskirts of Deir ez-Zor city.
Russia and the United States maintain de-confliction lines, but do not coordinate, according to the Coalition. The United States announced this summer that it had officially ended a covert program that supported Syrian rebels.