Homs, Syria – On Thursday December 9th the Islamic State launched a surprise duel offensive targeting the northwest and southeast outskirts of Palmyra, Syria in order to retake the city they held not nine months ago. Today, Syrian officials have confirmed that the Islamic State has re-taken large portions of the ancient city from Russian-backed Syrian forces with its forces being taken by complete surprise. With a sneak attack as its major effort, focused on overtaking the Islamic State’s stranglehold on Aleppo, the Syrian military is now scrambling to re-enforce its front-line fighters in this latest coordinated attack. Casualties on the Syrian side have been high with 49 confirmed dead on top of the Islamic State claiming Syrian opposition has been turning tail and running from its positions; unable to staunch the flow of IS fighters pushing towards the city center. Now, the Islamic State is claiming to have shot down a Syrian Air Force MiG-23 that was supporting the ground forces attempting to break this latest attack.
Almost as soon as the MiG-23 (based at Et Tifor airbase near Palmyra) was reported as lost, the Syrian and Russian governments disputed Islamic State’s claims by calling it a crash due to technical difficulties with the pilot surviving the incident. A Russian government source in a statement confirmed the incident as a crash by stating on a Russian news site that “The Syrian MiG-23 crashed today not far from the airport Tifor in eastern province of Homs became the reason for the collapse of a technical failure.” When asked about Islamic State’s counter-claim of having downed the fighter jet the Russian source said that “this information has nothing to do with reality.” ISIS is maintaining its claim that they in fact downed the fighter jet with a missile attack.
What is clear however is that the latest coordinated offensive by ISIS has so far been successful. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group is reporting that ISIS has entered Palmyra and intense fighting between Russian-backed Syrian forces and ISIS can be seen and heard within the city center, amid reports of pro-Assad regime militia Jaish al-Mujahideen being diverted from the fight to re-claim Aleppo to re-enforce Syrian troops in Palmyra. Palmyra is a strategic city for the Islamic State as the region holds large oil fields that ISIS uses to funds its campaign in Syria and abroad. Syrian airstrikes are targeting IS fighters in and around the major oil fields of Shaer, Jahar, al-Mohar, and the Jazl in an attempt to deny ISIS from retaking these precious resources. However ISIS is claiming to now have seized the city of Palmyra’s key military arms warehouses in its northern and western districts after they say Syrian forces abandoned their positions during the fighting. The latest Islamic State offensive in Palmyra is looking like it will drastically hinder Syrian president Bashir al-Assad’s hopes of routing ISIS from Aleppo, reclaiming the city and putting it back under his control. Mr. Assad is now forced to pull Syrian troops from Aleppo and push them towards defending Palmyra from being retaken by the Islamic State, spreading his regime forces even thinner.
Feature Photo: Military.com