US-backed forces in Deir ez-Zor province. Photo: YPG Press Office
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Battling the elements as a sandstorm blows through the Deir ez-Zor desert, the SDF and Syrian army both report advances in the area of key energy infrastructure northeast of the city.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) engaged in “fierce clashes” with ISIS, surrounding militants at Azbah and Koniko “gas factories.”
“The advance of the SDF continued after facing those clashes in those two strategic spots north of Deir ez-Zor,” their media office reported on Friday.
Koniko is the largest gas field in Syria.
The Syrian army and allied militias, backed by Russia and Iran, are advancing in the same area, seeking to block the SDF advance and reach Koniko gas field and Azbah oil field, Iran’s Fars news reported on Friday, citing local sources.
Fars news is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The Syrian army took control of a number of villages as they advanced towards the Koniko gas field, state-run SANA reported on Tuesday.
Tensions between the SDF and the Syrian army in Deir ez-Zor province have been high after several reported incidents between them.
After claiming Syrian forces have recently come under fire from SDF locations, Russia warned the US on Thursday that they would retaliate if any further attacks were made. The SDF denied they have fired on the regime forces.
Last weekend, several SDF fighters were injured when their location was hit by Russian munitions, the US-led global anti-ISIS coalition stated on Sunday.
Brett McGurk, special US presidential envoy to the coalition, said in a press conference on Friday that the US and Russia have discussed the matter at the military level and the ministerial level between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He said things have been “fairly well worked out.”
While the battlefield is increasingly complicated in Deir ez-Zor, local media has reported that ISIS has set fire to an oil well in the Koniko area.
The conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated on Wednesday that flames were seen at Koniko and the cause of the fire was unknown.
ISIS has used this tactic previously, with disastrous result. Thick black smoke filled the skies over Qayara, south of Mosul, for months as Iraqi forces battled to put out burning oil wells lit by the militants when they retreated from the area last year.