A battle on June 29 between ISIS and a pro-American Syrian rebel force near the Syria-Iraq border will go down as one of the most striking defeats ever suffered by an American-backed Syrian force trained in Jordan in the annals of the war on terror.
It was not the first, say debkafile’s military and intelligence sources. In August 2015, a force from Al Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front destroyed a similar rebel force called Division 30. And 12 hours earlier, on June 28, ISIS suicide bombers murdered 44 people in a bloodbath at Ataturk international airport in Istanbul.
The following timeline of events is instructive:
1. In March and April of this year, military instructors from the CIA, together with Jordanian intelligence officers and special operations units, established a new militia to fight ISIS called the New Syria Army. Most of the recruits were from Syrian refugee camps. The US furnished the militia with funds and advanced weapons.
2. They were trained by US and Jordanian military instructors at Jordan’s al-Rukban base in the Berm area on the Syrian border.
3. In May, American commanders in Jordan decided that the militia would launch its first mission in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.
4. In June, it became clear to the Americans and the Jordanians that the time had come for the new force to go into action.
There were five reasons:
A. After the capture of the Iraqi city of Fallujah from ISIS, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias that participated in the campaign, namely the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Badar Forces, had started moving west toward the Iraq-Syria border (see map).
B. Syrian army and Hizballah forces had embarked on a parallel eastward movement from the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor toward the Iraqi border (see map). Their goal was to link up with the Iraqi Shiite militias on the Syrian-Iraqi border and create a land bridge for the use of all pro-Iranian forces in the two countries.
C. Washington and Amman regarded this development as dangerous and resolved to preempt it.
D. To that end, the New Syria Army was to be sent into action to take the town of Abu Kamal near the border.
E. The commanders assumed that the loss of Abu Kamal would deal a blow to ISIS forces in eastern Syria and plant a pro-American wedge against the linkup of the two pro-Iranian forces and so foil their projected land bridge athwart Iraq and Syria. .
5. On June 21, an ISIS suicide bomber driving a stolen Jordanian military truck blew himself up in the area of Jordan’s al-Rukban base on the Syrian border, in an attempt to avert the coming Abu Kemal attack by inflicting heavy losses on the new militia. Most of those killed were Jordanian border guards.
6. After the attack, US and Jordanian helicopters airlifted the new militia combatants to a forward base set up at al-Tanf inside Iraq, 230 kilometers from Abu Kamal. They were attacked twice by Russian air strikes in an effort to thwart the pro-US militia’s return to Syria.
7. On June 29, the new Syrian force nonetheless launched its attack, under the direction of Jordanian special operations and military intelligence officers, and the supervision of American elite forces officers at the US-Jordanian war room north of Amman.
8. However, the new Syrian militia was speedily ambushed by ISIS, which apparently was tipped off about the impending attack and its routes of approach. Dozens of Syrian militiamen were killed or wounded, and the force fled from the battlefield. Those unable to flee were shot dead or decapitated.
9. The Jordanian officers who commanded the force were among those who fled.
10. ISIS videos of the battle showed that advanced US military equipment provided the militiamen had fallen into the terrorist organization’s hands, recalling the sights from Iraq of two years ago, when ISIS captured as booty masses of American military hardware from fleeing troops.
The US and Jordan once again failed to establish a Syrian force capable of fighting ISIS. They also lost the chance to gain control of the situation in eastern and southern Syria.
No official in Washington was ready to comment on the battle.