Syrian regime forces in Palmyra, weakened by years of an uphill battle with a variety of rebel and jihadist groups, were routed with apparent ease despite distress signals when the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) attacked the ancient city, reports The New York Times.
Quoting an unnamed Syrian Army soldier who had long served in Palmyra, The Times notes that troops fighting in Palmyra on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad ran out of ammunition.
“We’re finished,” reportedly radioed one soldier to Syria’s military headquarters.
ISIS was able to seize Palmyra “with apparent ease” within a matter of days, “seemingly coming out of nowhere to rout government forces,” adds the article.
By Thursday, the jihadist group was consolidating its grip of the ancient city and killing anyone with ties to the Assad regime.
In what appeared to be ISIS’ long-term strategy, the terrorists bid their time, attacking and overrunning the Syrian forces “after years of war, attrition and corruption” had left them “demoralized and… hollowed out,” declares The Times.
“Residents were caught between the latest Islamic State onslaught and what sometimes seemed like a haphazard government response The scenes of chaos that unfolded belied the Syrian state news media’s claim that government forces had withdrawn only after taking families to safety,” it later adds.
The Syrian regime troops were described by residents as fleeing and leaving civilians and some of the their comrades to fend for themselves.
An unnamed business owner called departure of the pro-government forces running away “treason.”
Some residents “wondered why the militants had not been bombed earlier — by the government or, for that matter, by the United States-led coalition waging a parallel air war against them — while they were traversing miles of open desert roads,” reports NYT.
“But most of all, they said, they had lost any sense that the [Assad] government could provide safety even to its loyalists,” it continues. “On Thursday, after the militants had taken over the city and begun executing people they deemed close to the government, many residents cowered in their houses and basements, terrified of militants in the streets and of government shelling and airstrikes from the sky.”
More than half of Syria fell under the control of ISIS after the jihadist group captured Palmyra, home to a UNESCO World heritage site that includes 2,000-year-old colonnaded streets, temples, and a theatre.
The ancient site is at risk of being looted and destroyed by ISIS.