According to the DEBKA news service, American miliitary forces agreed, at Russia’s request, to cease its aerial surveillance and then allow the hand-over of a convoy of Islamic State combatants to the Syrian military. The convoy had been stranded in the Syrian desert for ten days, ever since the Hizballah (Hezbollah) terrorist organization, backed by Iran, allowed the ISIS combatants to leave the conflictive zone along the Lebanon/Syria border.
DEBKA reported that this meant that American jets circled the ISIS convoy and fired on any jihadi combatants who sought to escape, as well as any others seeking to relieve their comrades on the 17 stranded vehicles. According to DEBKA’s analysis, this means that was the first time that the United States and coalition forces have relinquished a military mission to the Syrian army at Russia’s request.
“By this action, the Americans opened a pathway to the handover of the regions under US control in eastern Syria to [Syrian president Bashr] Assad's forces. It was therefore the harbinger not only of America's exit from eastern Syria, as DEBKA noted in its top story Friday, Sept. 8, but also signaled the reduction of its military effort against ISIS in that part of the country,” said the report.
On September 8, DEBKA reported that the 17 buses filled with ISIS combatants and family members were allowed under a Hizballah-brokered truce to leave from Deir ez-Zour - the largest city in western Syria and which has been under ISIS control for several years. DEBKA reported that the the US-led coalition signaled Damascus, via Russia, that the Islamist convoy would not be allowed to move any closer to the Iraqi border, but suggested a course of action was needed to save the women and children from any further suffering. Iraq accused Hizballah of trying to dump the ISIS jihadi combatants on its border. Coalition forces thus targeted any ISIS vehicles attempting to assist the convoy, but not the convoy itself. Food and water were provided.
DEBKA cited military sources saying that Hizballah troops account for most of the pro-Syrian forces fighting in southeastern Syria during the last week, especially in the area of Deir ez-Zour. The Hizballah forces have run into strong resistance from ISIS forces and have not been able to defeat them. Two weeks ago, Hizballah and the Lebanese army faced scattered forces of ISIS and the Nusra Front terrorists along the Lebanon/Syria border. Hizballah now faces the main ISIS army in the Syrian desert and the Euphrates Valley, and has so far failed to break through or defeat it. According to DEBKA, that is why the Russian command in Syria decided on Thursday to attack ISIS positions with seven cruise missiles fired from a submarine in an attempt to assist the Hizballah forces southeast of Deir ez-Zour.
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.