U.S.-led airstrikes block hundreds of IS fighters in Syria
Beirut — U.S. warplanes on Wednesday blocked a convoy of hundreds of Islamic State fighters who were heading to eastern Syria under the terms of a widely criticized deal brokered by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
The 310 fighters were traveling to the Iraqi-Syrian border in a convoy of buses after Hezbollah and the Syrian government permitted them to withdraw from a besieged enclave on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The deal triggered a rare outburst of public anger against Hezbollah even among some of its closest allies, notably in Iraq, which is gearing up for an offensive to reclaim Iraqi territory adjoining the area to which the fighters were relocating.
Negotiated withdrawals have been a common tactic in Syria’s six-yearold war and have enabled the Syrian government to reassert its authority over many of the areas that fell to opposition control.
But this was the first publicly announced instance of a deal involving the Islamic State on any battle front in Syria or Iraq since the war against the group geared up three years ago.
The criticisms laid bare a widening rift between the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State and the rival coalition fighting the extremists that includes the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Syria and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq.
On Wednesday morning, the U.S.led coalition moved to prevent the convoy from reaching its destination, cratering the road and blowing up a bridge leading to the Islamic State-controlled town of Bukamal on the Syrian border with Iraq, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Col. Ryan Dillon.
The strikes took place in the vicinity of a desert town called Hamaymah, and though front lines are fluid and shifting in that part of Syria, it is the U.S. military’s understanding that the convoy is now stuck in Syrian government-held territory, Dillon said.
“ISIS is a global threat, and to relocate terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not acceptable to the coalition,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State. “Our goal is to prevent this convoy from moving to ISIS-held territory to reinforce ISIS elements there.”