The extent of Russia’s determination to prevent ISIS from overrunning the Syrian army’s defences in the besieged eastern desert town of Deir Ezzor is becoming increasingly clear.
Yesterday Russian TU22M3 bombers bombed ISIS positions near Deir Ezzor for the fourth time in five days. A report by the normally reliable Al-Masdar news agency claims that the Russian air force in fact carried out no fewer than 50 air strikes on ISIS positions near Deir Ezzor yesterday. The report is sourced from the Syrian military in Deir Ezzor, and given Al-Masdar’s known close contacts with the Syrian military is probably true.
Al-Masdar also reports that on 23rd January 2017 the Russian air force airlifted Syrian army reinforcements – including paratroopers – to Deir Ezzor. The Al-Masdar report, which is based on a report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia, says the Russians transported the troops to Deir Ezzor by IL76 transports and MI17 helicopters. This suggests that the Russians transported the troops both to the besieged airport (by IL76) and to the town itself (by MI17 helicopter).
The fact that ISIS – which is known to possess shoulder armed surface to air missiles (“MANPADS”) – is in close proximity to the landing zones, apparently meant that the airlift required “special technology” which only the Russians have. That strongly suggests the air lift was carried out at night.
Given the extent of Russia’s commitment to the defence of Deir Ezzor, ISIS’s chances of overrunning either the town or its airport must be dwindling. Moreover ISIS must be suffering increasingly heavy losses by trying to sustain its attacks there.
There must be some ISIS commanders who are starting to question the logic of continuing with the attempts to capture Deir Ezzor. ISIS has up to now consistently avoided getting drawn into battles of attrition, in which it throws away the lives of its fighters by trying to overrun strong defences. Instead – as in Mosul and Al-Bab – it tries to use attrition against its enemies. However in Deir Ezzor it is precisely a battle of attrition that ISIS is now in danger of finding itself in. There must be some ISIS commanders who are warning against the wisdom of persisting with it.
Meanwhile, possibly in an attempt to relieve the pressure it is increasingly coming under, ISIS yesterday attempted to cut the Khanasser road – the main road linking Aleppo to the government controlled areas in central and southern Syria. Latest reports however suggest that the Syrian army has successfully repulsed this attack, driving ISIS away from the road, which is once again securely under the Syrian army’s control.