As Turkey and the United States jointly conduct airstrikes aimed at eliminating the influence of ISIS, the terrorist group has begun to relocate its troops in an attempt to capture cities where neither Kurds nor rival jihadi ground troops are a threat– towns still officially in control of the Syrian government.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog group, Islamic State jihadis are being moved into Deir Ezzor, a central Syrian city by the Euphrates River far from the Turkish and Iraqi borders. The group’s report claims “large numbers of foreign fighters are weapons” have moved there in order to solidify their hold on the town, with a few neighborhoods still nominally under control of President Bashar al-Assad.
The move follows a weekend in which ISIS appeared to be bouncing back from attacks by a campaign jointly under control of Turkey and the United States. Turkey began conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq last month, though the government has been accused of using its force to weaken the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an enemy terrorist group to ISIS, more than it has fought ISIS itself. The United States begun striking ISIS targets with manned aircraft flying out of Turkey on August 12, the Pentagon confirmed.
Despite this campaign, however, Chinese state news outlet Xinhua reported that a major offensive by the terrorist group resulted in up to 50 Syrian rebels killed in Aleppo province, bordering Syria. The rebels were believed to be aligned with the the al-Shaitaat tribe who, while Sunni Muslims, have resisted Islamic State advances since the terrorist group first arrived in their region.
The Islamic State also took hold of the town of Umm Housh in Aleppo, which Arutz Sheva notes is “along a rebel supply line from Turkey. “ISIS is trying to seize control of these villages from rebels to cut their supply route between Aleppo city and its outskirts, and the town of Azaz,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, explained.
The advances of Turkey and the United States appear to have changed the Islamic State’s strategy from moving closer to Turkey and taking on Kurdish-protected towns directly to attempting to conquer towns held by independent rebels or regions controlled by al-Assad piecemeal. Another development that has served to benefit ISIS is the announcement by the al-Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda subgroup, that they would cease to operate in the “ISIS-free area” Turkey is attempting to create in Syria. Nusra spokesmen objected to the Turkish government’s military advance, accusing Ankara of being more invested in “Turkey’s national security” than in toppling Assad, the Nusra Front’s main objective. Al Qaeda and ISIS are rival jihadi groups.