Russia Airfreights Syrian Troops to Save Deir Ez-Zour from Falling to ISIS

Russian freight planes Wednesday, Jan. 18 transported hundreds of Syrian troops into battle in northeastern Syria where the key town of Deir ez-Zour is on the point of falling into the hands of the Islamic State.
ISIS is in the middle of a new offensive launched last Saturday to wrest all parts of the strategic town, which commands southeastern Syria, from government forces. Reinforcements poured into the front lines from ISIS strongholds in Iraq, even embattled Mosul.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that Deir ez-Zour’s fall to ISIS would weigh significantly on the next, critical stages of the conflict: It would affect the battle for Mosul, now entering its third month, and affect decisions on launching a parallel offensive to recover the ISIS Syrian bastion of Raqqa.
The fall of Deir ez-Zour might also cause a delay in the joint US-Russian-Jordanian-Syrian operation to drive the Islamic State out of the Syrian town of Palmyra, which was to have represented the first test of US-Russian military teamwork under the Trump administration.
Once back in government hands, Palmyra would have stood as a barrier between northern and eastern Syria and cut off ISIS supply routes between Syria and Iraq. But if the jihadists are allowed to conquer Deir ez-Zour, the impact of the Palmyra operation on the military balance of the war on ISIS would be blunted. In fact, ISIS could relocate its main Syrian stronghold from Raqqa to the newly-conquered town and claim a signal victory.
On the battlefield, ISIS forces had by Monday, Jan. 16, ISIS managed to bisect the last government-held corner of Deir ez-Zour and cut its military complex, including an air base, off from the rest of the town.
That air base had served to supply the approximately 120,000 civilians trapped in the town after the ISIS siege had blocked all other routes of delivery.
The helicopters which were the only means of delivering essential food and medical supplies now have nowhere to land. Iran has also lost the Revolutionary Guards’main air base for maintaining communications and logistics links with its forces in Syria.
The fiercest battles fought at present are focused around the Deir ez-Zour cemetery and a road junction known as the Panorama Roundabout. Our military sources report that Wednesday, Jan. 18, Russian transports flew in to the arena two battalions of the Syrian army’s 15th infantry division. They came to prop up against collapse the government forces defending Deir ez-Zour, which were drawn from the Syrian army’s 137th Brigade, part of the elite Republican Guard.
If this influx of strength fails to turn the tide of the battle, the Russian command is contemplating importing the Lebanese Hizballah’s elilte Radwan Force for a desperate bid to arrest ISIS’ victorious march on Deir ez-Zour.

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