Eastern desert: ISIS beats back multiple offensives, continues to suffer attrition losses on several fronts

6/29/16: Despite suffering major casualties and losing the stronghold of Fallujah, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shaam continues to fight on and has struck back against its enemies in the past couple of weeks, blunting attempted offensives and managing to retain much of their territory despite taking heavy losses from warfare attrition.

On the 17th of June, the Syrian government’s major foray into Raqqa Governorate ended in failure after the advancing forces were thrown back by a significant counterattack by ISIS forces. Spearheaded by multiple SVBIEDs, the counterattack threw the SAA and allied units into disarray and cost them heavy casualties, and they retreated back to the Ithriya-Khanasser road, spelling the end of the ill-fated campaign. Although ISIS attacks on the road were beaten back, the government failed to capitalize on this and remained in their positions along the road, unwilling to attempt to regain ground in Raqqa Governorate.

In Deir-ez-Zor, the SAA and ISIS continued to clash south of the city, with multiple attempted offensives on the 137th Missile Brigade base blunted by government defenders. Between the 17th and 23rd of June, the two groups skirmished heavily on Jabal Thardah, and finally on the 24th the last checkpoints on the mountain were seized by SAA regulars after light combat. Attempts by the government to capture Thayyem Oil Field, however, were beaten back by ISIS fighters and the government’s renewed momentum stalled out after the 25th.

Fighting in Tadmur and Homs rural areas continued between the 16th and 28th of June, with skirmishes occurring in the environs of Arak and Mustadira Fields east of Tadmur. On the 23rd, an attempted offensive by the SAA was thrown back with heavy losses (40+ dead, 1 tank, 1 23mm gun, and 2 light vehicles destroyed), and several checkpoints were captured by ISIS. ISIS took control of the SyriaTel Hill in Arak Gas Field on the 24th but suffered moderate casualties (20 dead, four technicals destroyed) attempting to advance further. Clashes continued in Arak Field and around Palmyra grain silos, with the silos remaining in government hands on the 29th.

Farther south, near Al-Bukamal, the long-awaited offensive by the US-backed New Syrian Army (NSyA) finally occurred on the 28th of June, with several hundred men and several dozen vehicles launching an attack on the city located on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Despite reports of initial successes by the attackers, the ISIS defenders in the city were able to regroup and establish defensive lines that broke the NSyA offensive, resulting in heavy casualties for the US-backed opposition group. Fighting continued into the 29th, as the NSyA attempted to regroup and hold rural ground south of the city, and coalition airstrikes continued to pound the area.

There has been little in the way of significant action in Sweida and northern Raqqa. The YPG is expected to resume operations in northern Raqqa soon.

SAA soldiers with a KORNET missile system on Jabal Thardah, June 23rd.

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