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Battle For Deir Ezzor And Race For Oil In Eastern Syria – Analysis

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Battle For Deir Ezzor And Race For Oil In Eastern Syria - Analysis

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The military situation is developing rapidly in the province of Deir Ezzor as the ISIS-held area is shrinking under the pressure of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed up by the Russian Aerospace Forces, and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the US-led coalition.

On September 13, the SAA, the Syrian Republican Guard (SRG), Hezbollah and other pro-government factions continued operations against ISIS in the Deir Ezzor area and advanced on ISIS positions at Jafrah, al-Mariiyah and ar-Rouad.

Tactical goals of the SAA and its allies in eastern Syria are:

  • to secure the northwestern flank of the government-held city, liberating ar-Rouad and the army storage base. If the ISIS defense collapses in the area, the SAA and its allies may push towards al-Baghiliyah. However, this is not a top priority right now because the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance has much more important task on the ground;
  • to secure the entire area of Jafra and to fully encircle ISIS units operating inside the northern part of Deir Ezzor city. The liberation of Jafra wil lset a foothold for the government advance on Saqr Island and al-Mariiyah. Al-Mariiyah has to be liberated if the Syrian military seeks to establish at least partly secure perimeter on the eastern flank of Deir Ezzor Airport.
  • to establish a foothold for a operation to cross the Euphrates River in the area near Deir Ezzor city. Government forces need to secure few areas on the western bank of Euphrates if they want to cross the area safely despite a high presence of ISIS members on the eastern bank of the river. The Syrian military with the Russian support may also conduct an airborne operation in order to create a foothold on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. However, this is a risky move. It may be implemented if the SAA has no other options to win the race for eastern Syria.

Mid term goals of the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance in eastern Syria:

  • to liberate and to secure the entire area of Deir Ezzor city and Deir Ezzor Airport and to turn Deir Ezzor Airport into a foothold for further operations against ISIS in eastern Syria;
  • to liberate the towns of al-Mayadin, Abu Hamam and al-Bukamal from ISIS and to take control over the Syrian part of the Damascus-Baghdad highway;
  • to expand its influence on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River and to prevent patrition of Syria via a “deconfliction line” along the Euphrates River;
  • to establish control over the all vital oil fields in Deir Ezzor countryside.

The success of this strategy will depend on many factors and the SAA will likely face problems with overstretched supply lines and a lack of manpower to storm successfully ISIS strongholds located in the Euphrates Valley. Many will also depend on the ability of the US-backed forces to progress rapidly against ISIS in the area of Al Suwar and further south towards the oil fields on the eastern bank of Euphrates.

Battle For Deir Ezzor And Race For Oil In Eastern Syria - Analysis

Click to see the full-size map

Recently, the SDF has seized a large area north of Deir Ezzor city and entered the ISIS-held village of al-Husayniyah located in about 3km from Deir Ezzor city.

The SDF started its operation against ISIS in Deir Ezzor province earlier in September when the SAA and its allies overrun the ISIS defense in the area of Deir Ezzor city and broke the 3-years-long ISIS siege on the city and the nearby airport. The US-backed force seized the fact that ISIS was deeply involved in the battle against government forces in order to make own gains.

Meanwhile, the SDF still faces some problems with capturing the city of Raqqah from ISIS. Thus, the group could put itself in trobule opening the second front against ISIS. However, the SDF faced a little resistance during its advance on the eastern bank of Euphrates.

The main ISIS defense positions are located at Al Suwar, al-Mayadin, Abu Hamam and al-Bukamal as well as at the major oil fields in on the eastern bank of the river.

Tactical goals of the SDF in eastern Syria are:

  • to seize the entire northern Deir Ezzor countryside, including the bridge areas on the eastern bank of Euphrates in northern Deir Ezzor;
  • to secure the recent gains and to reach the Omar oil fields east of Deir Ezzor city as well as to seize them if no singificant resistance will be faced from ISIS;
  • to tighten pressure on ISIS in Al Suwar and to secure the northern flank of the SDF grouping that would push towards oil fields on the eastern bank of Euphrates;

Mid term goals of the US-led coalition in eastern Syria:

  • to seize Al Suwar and to develop a large operation aimed at capturing the entire oil fields area on the eastern bank of Euphrates;
  • to reach the Damascus-Baghdad highway in some point between Deir Ezzor and al-Bukamal before the SAA and to take control over it. This could be used to prevent further avdances of government forces or event to block this vital supply line that could be used by Iran and Iraq to support the Syrian government;
  • to divide Syria via a “deconfliction line” along the Euphrates River and, in the best case, to seize some areas on the western bank of Euphrates under a pre-text of combating ISIS;
  • To increase its influence in eastern Syria as much as possible in order to use it as a bargaining chip further negotiations on the fate of the post-ISIS Syria OR to include the area into a puppet semi-independent state that could be created (in some cases) in the SDF-held area.

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