ISIS is making advances in Syria and Iraq, despite an international campaign to eradicate the Islamic terror group.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has re-entered the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria on Saturday for the first time since they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces nine months ago.
The Palmyra Coordination Network said ISIS had nearly encircled the city and entered its northern and northwestern neighborhoods. The group, which maintains contacts inside the city, said ISIS fighters were approaching the city’s UNESCO heritage site as well, which they have already heavily damaged.
Osama al-Khatib said government soldiers were fleeing Palmyra.
“The army as an institution has dissolved,” Khatib said. Some soldiers and militiamen remain in the city, along with 120 families who have not been able to leave, he added, speaking to The Associated Press from Gaziantep, Turkey.
“There is strong fighting on all sides,” he reported. “There is no exit except through a corridor to the West.”
The dramatic reversal in Palmyra comes days after ISIS terrorists in the Iraqi city of Mosul launched a major counterattack that surprised Iraqi soldiers, killing at least 20 and halting their advance. Iraqi special forces units have entered the eastern outskirts of the largest remaining ISIS-held city, but their advance has been greatly slowed by both a desire to limit civilian casualties and the resilience of the ISIS fighters.
On Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that an additional 200 US soldiers will be dispatched to Syria to accelerate the push on the self-declared ISIS capital of Raqqa. The 200, to include special operations troops, are in addition to 300 already authorized for the effort to recruit, organize, train and advise local Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS.
Irreparable Damage to Historic Relics
During the 10 months that ISIS held Palmyra, from May 2015 to March 2016, the terrorists destroyed several of the city’s famed ancient Roman monuments and executed its archaeological director.
After the city was retaken, the Russian government staged a classical music concert in the city’s soaring Roman amphitheater last May to celebrate the success. The Syrian and Russian government maintain they are defending the global community against Islamic terrorism in the country’s devastating five-1/2-year war.
After taking Palmyra, the two states turned their attention to wiping out the internal opposition in Damascus and Aleppo, leaving the historic city relatively unguarded.
Mohammad Hassan Homsi of the Palmyra News Network reported that a military division withdrew from the city earlier Saturday without leaving a way out for civilians. According to Homsi, only 350 families had returned to the city of its original 30,000 inhabitants after the government retook the city to great fanfare in March.
The terrorists advanced on Palmyra after seizing several government positions, oil fields, and strategic hilltops in the surrounding countryside in a lightning three-day campaign.
Earlier Saturday, the terrorists’ Aamaq News Agency claimed the group shot down a government warplane in the Jazal oil fields west of the city.