As the military crisis in Deir Ezzor continues, the Syrian army has rushed reinforcements to the besieged desert city by helicopter, and has sent one of its toughest and most capable commanders there.
This is General Mohammad Khaddour, who previously commanded the garrison at Deir Ezzor until he was reassigned elsewhere from there a year ago.
The very latest reports from the town suggest that the Syrian military has successfully held off further attacks by ISIS, but that with the town’s vital airport still cut off from the rest of the garrison the situation remains tense.
These reports come at the same time as news filters through of further advances by the Syrian army west of Palmyra, in what may be an attempt to increase the pressure on ISIS elsewhere.
There is no doubt that the ultimate cause of the deterioration in the Syrian army’s position in Deir Ezzor is the US air strike on a key part of the Syrian army’s defences around the town in September. The Syrian army’s position in the town has been precarious ever since, as the US air attack destabilised its defences.
The US has never acknowledged the disastrous consequences of this attack, which contrary to a US military report – which claims the attack was a “mistake” – appears to have actually been the result of US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s determination to wreck the September Kerry-Lavrov agreement, and may also have been (as Eric Zuesse writes) part of a wider scheme to establish a Jihadi controlled zone in eastern Syria.
At the same time the concentration of ISIS forces at Deir Ezzor, like ISIS’s capture of Palmyra in December, reflects once again the Syrian military’s weakness in this area – which is located far from the heartland of Syrian power in the coastal regions of the country’s west – as well as ISIS’s ability to move its forces quickly to exploit this weakness.
The situation in Deir Ezzor hangs by a thread, and for the sake of the survival of the men who make up its garrison – unlikely to be spared by ISIS if they are captured – and the people of the town, it is to be earnestly hoped that the Syrian military – currently being provided with heavy Russian air support – is able to turn the situation round.