Palmyra is fully liberated from ISIS occupation… FINALLY!

Update on the fight against ISIS in Syria

Palmyra ruins after ISIS
Palmyra ruins after ISIS

At Palmyra:

On December 13, 2016, between 4,000 – 5,000 Islamic State fighters assaulted the ancient city of Palmyra from several flanks, causing the Syrian Army to withdraw to more defensible positions.

Approximately 1,000 Syrian Army soldiers were stationed at the Palmyra front — outnumbered by ISIS by at least 4-1. With the threat of being encircled, the Syrian Army was forced to regroup on the western outskirts of the city.

In addition to assaulting and capturing Palmyra, ISIS also seized Palmyra Airbase, the Hayyan gas field and al-Dawa village.

Many thousands of ISIS fighters had recently crossed the border from Iraq during the battle for Mosul. They regrouped and joined ISIS fighters in Syria at Deir Ezzor and in Homs.

In August 2015, ISIS took Palmyra and immediately began a rampage of atrocities. First, 25 Syrian Army members were executed in one of the archeological sites. Civilians were forced into the amphitheater to watch. The executions were conducted by young ISIS members aged 12-16.

Then, the archeologist in charge of the antiquities, Khaled Assad, was held hostage and tortured for 30 days. ISIS wanted Palmyra’s invaluable treasures to sell in the black market via the Turkish border. Khaled Assad, the Director of Antiquities, was in charge of the treasures. After torturing Assad without gain, ISIS beheaded Assad in the main square, and then crucified his dead body, where it hung for several days.

Immediately afterwards, ISIS blew up the ancient city’s most treasured structures, all were UNESCO World Heritage sites.

It took seven months of fighting before the Syrian Army was able to regain Palmyra. This was achieved with the help of the Russians. ISIS had taken Palmyra in August 2015, and Russia joined Syria in the fight against the terrorists in September, 2015. Palmyra was liberated by the Syrian and Russian armies in March 2016. Palmyra had been cleansed of ISIS ever since, until this last week.

During this most recent battle for Palmyra, ISIS seized a Russian military base in Palmyra after a massive attack. Russian forces blew up an ISIS arms cache and withdrew from the base.

The Russian Air Force then made strikes on ISIS groups who were situated along the Palmyra-Homs Highway near the Syrian Army’s T-4 Military Airport. ISIS launched a large attack on the T-4 Military Airport on December 13th, targeting the checkpoints and installations around the base’s southern, northern, and eastern flanks.

The Russian Air Force repeatedly struck ISIS positions around the T-4 Military Airport, thereby helping the Syrian Army repel assaults at the military installation.

December 16, 2016

ISIS unleashed several suicide bombers at the Syrian Army’s defenses along the Furqalas-Palmyra Road and Palmyra-Homs Highway. The massive explosions could be heard several miles away.

Following the suicide bombings, ISIS then stormed Syrian Army positions, resulting in fighting that lasted throughout the day.

The Syrian Army’s paratrooper division was then deployed to the western countryside of Palmyra. The paratrooper division is rarely used.

The paratroopers parachuted into the western outskirts of the T-4 Military Airport after the Palmyra-Homs Road was closed due to the security threat posed by ISIS.

ISIS was driven back and at least 70 ISIS members were killed.

Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force carried out sorties throughout the day, thus enabling the Syrian Army to further drive back ISIS forces, killing at least 35 more militants before securing the T-4 Military Airport.

On December 18, the Syrian Army conducted a large-scale cleansing operation around the T-4 Military Airport and then expanded the buffer-zone around the perimeters.

Palmyra is fully liberated from ISIS occupation; all gains made by ISIS have been recaptured, and, the nearby Military Airport is secure.

At Deir Ezzor

On December 12, 2016, ISIS launched a massive offensive on Deir Ezzor, targeting several neighborhoods. ISIS began the assault by launching airstrikes with attack drones. Following the drone strikes, ISIS launched a simultaneous assault on two more neighborhoods, resulting in a fierce battle with the Syrian Army that lasted several hours. So far, the Syrian Army has repelled the attacks.

Originally published at CheriBerens

Cheri Berens lives in Egypt working as a researcher for the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. She experienced Egypt’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions and witnessed the Muslim Brotherhood takeover and violence that followed.