US-led coalition steps up anti-ISIS airstrikes in Palmyra

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ISIS militants in Palmyra. File photo

ARA News

The US-led coalition on Monday carried out several airstrikes in Palmyra, where  Syrian regime forces are fighting Islamic State’s (ISIS) militants.

“Near Palmyra, nine strikes destroyed 17 heavy equipment vehicles, 11 vehicles, four dump trucks, three front-end loaders, three VBIEDs and two tanks,” the coalition said on Tuesday.

The Islamic State group re-took Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in December 2016, driving out regime forces that took the city from ISIS in March 2016 with Russian support. Currently, the regime forces are gradually taking back territory there.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, a high-level coalition commander, on 13 December last year said that it was up to the Russians and the Syrian regime to take the ancient city of Palmyra back, and that it was difficult to coordinate airstrikes.

“They lost it … so I think it’s up to them probably to take it back. And the reason we’re not acting more aggressively is first of all, that’s the first fact of life is that was theirs,” he said.

“The second fact of life is we’re not sure who is there on the ground, we can’t tell one side from the other. So we can’t tell if the truck and the armored vehicle is being operated by a regime trooper, a Russian trooper or ISIS fighter, we can’t tell that,” the US-led coalition’s commander stated.

“We’re just kind of staying out of it and watching it right now and protecting our own interest and letting the Russians sort that out, which I think is probably the common sense way to go about Palmyra,” he concluded.

Nevertheless, the US-led coalition carried out several strikes near Palmyra since December.

On Dec. 15, Coalition aircraft destroyed 14 ISIS tanks and other equipment captured near Palmyra city. Moreover, a coalition strike destroyed an ISIS tank on 4 February, 2017.

In January, the Islamic State executed two Syrian soldiers who had been taken captive subsequent to clashes near Palmyra. Also, the group executed 12 civilians in the ancient Syrian city after accusing them of supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The executions also took place at the Roman-era amphitheater of Palmyra.

On December 11, 2016, the ISIS hardline group recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in Homs Governorate. Activists and military sources confirmed the rout, reporting that the Syrian army had been forced to withdraw under fire. “The army withdrew after the clashes reached the city center and it became impossible for them to push ISIS back,” local media activist Abas al-Omar told ARA News.

Russia had supported the Syrian Army in Palmyra, with airstrikes and logistical support but their efforts were apparently insufficient to save the city.

ISIS first took over Palmyra in May 2015, following  a protracted battle with regime forces. The Islamic State’s occupation was exceptionally brutal, even by the standards of Syria’s 5-year-long conflict.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg and Haytham Mustafa | Source: ARA News

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