Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the "Cleansing" of Deir ez-Zour

by Valerie Szybala

When it was forced by other rebels to withdraw from many of its positions in Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour at the beginning of the year, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) threatened that it would return. ISIS is now making good on that threat with its current offensive. 

Beginning at the end of March 2014 ISIS began moving forces from Hasaka and ar-Raqqa down the Khabur and Euphrates Rivers into Deir ez-Zour, launching its main offensive in mid-April. The main opponents targeted by its attacks have been Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and other rebel groups with which JN cooperates, including several brigades in the Islamic Front. Tribal militias have been mobilized to defend their towns against ISIS and are playing an increasingly important role in the fighting. The Deir ez-Zour offensive shows ISIS’s increasing abilities to design and execute sophisticated operations that include tactical feints and deliberate misinformation to deceive its opponents, while advancing its ground forces in complex maneuvers. 

Deir ez-Zour is important to ISIS both for its oil resources and as a supply route between Iraq and its primary Syrian stronghold of ar-Raqqa. Taking control of Deir ez-Zour may be a first step for ISIS in regaining all of its former Syrian areas of operation. 

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