BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:45 P.M.) – Since the beginning of 2018, lingering Islamic State forces in Syria’s eastern desert region have reminded the Syrian Army of their presence by launching multiple assaults against key government-held cities and towns along the western Euphrates shore.
It needs to be understood that maps showing a perfectly defined ISIS presence in the east Homs and west Deir Ezzor regions are somewhat inaccurate (as if it were possible for perfectly straight and continuous frontlines to exist in the desert) because in reality the zone of insurgency is much more vaguer – the idea that there is a ‘blockade’ of this area is something of a myth.
Whilst Islamic State militants do occupy definable positions in the desert (namely positions within canyons and caves as well as tunnels) at the same time they do not; for the Syrian Army to seize a hilltop or isolated town in the middle of the desert does not mean that ISIS has somehow lost the ability to mobilize within the area (if anything, it makes government forces vulnerable in that they can be attacked from any direction).
In such an environment, a group of ISIS fighters can spot the movement of government forces towards their position well in advance and then chose to simply slip away (most likely through tunnels) to another location.
What is today known as the ISIS militant group was born in the desert of Iraq’s Anbar province fifteen years ago; from its earliest days the insurgent faction learned how to operate from within a virtually featureless and barren landscape – something which even the most powerful and experienced conventional armies have never truly mastered themselves.
The key to defeating, or at least greatly suppressing such a mode of operations as used by ISIS in the Syrian desert is through a greater troop presence, regular patrols and constant surveillance. The same applies to the lingering terrorist insurgency in the mountains of northeastern Homs province.
It is, however, a long term game – the results of success take time to show and new lessons constantly need to be learned.