The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) has seized all border crossings between Syria and Iraq from Syrian regime troops, according to a monitor group.
ISIS captured the al-Tanaf border crossing in Syria’s Homs province, known as al-Waleed in Iraq, after the Syrian regime forces withdrew from the area as the jihadist group advanced.
“Thus, the regime forces have lost the last border crossing with Iraq,” says the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which monitors the Syrian conflict using a network of sources on the ground.
The seizure of the last border crossing under the control of forces loyal to Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad comes after ISIS captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
ISIS now controls more than half of Syria, according to the Observatory.
“The militants dominate the [Syrian] provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqa and have a strong presence in Hasakeh, Aleppo, Homs and Hama,” notes BBC.
“However, correspondents say there are large areas under IS [Islamic State] control in the east that are not very significant strategically,” it adds.
Taking the al-Tanf border crossing allows ISIS to directly connect territory it controls in east-central Syria with areas it holds in Anbar, Iraq’s largest and westernmost province, notes the BBC’s Jim Muir.
“Militants in Iraq are reported to be pressing eastwards from Ramadi down the Euphrates Valley towards Habbaniya where pro-government forces are massing for a proposed counter-attack on Ramadi,” points out BBC.
“If they take Habbaniya, IS will be close to linking up directly with Fallujah, a city close to Baghdad which has been held by the Sunni militant group for well over a year despite repeated attacks by government forces,” says Muir.
U.S. officials said that the U.S.-led coalition has carried out 18 air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria since Wednesday.
The White House has described the recent ISIS gains in Iraq and Syria as a “setback” for the U.S.-led coalition.
President Obama insists that the U.S. is not losing the war against the jihadist group.
“No, I don’t think we’re losing,” Obama told The Atlantic magazine in an interview published on Thursday. “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time.”
“The training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country,” he added.
Some analysts, such as retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane, believe the U.S. is indeed losing the anti-ISIS war.
Gen. Keane told lawmakers on Thursday that Obama’s strategy against ISIS is “fundamentally flawed.”
The recent ISIS gains in Iraq and Syria come after Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on March 11 that “ISIL’s momentum has been diminished.”