The US and Russia have just agreed to each provide air support for a conjoined pincer movement to pin the Islamic State down in its last strongholds of Abu Kamal and Mayadin in the Euphrates Valley, debkafile reports from exclusive intelligence sources.
The number of jihadists assembled there, mainly from Mosul and Raqqa, is estimated at 10,000.
The new US-Russian understanding, our military sources say, provides a roadmap for twin offensives - one led by Syrian regime, Hizballah and pro-Iranian militia armies; the second, by the pro-US Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Arab Shammari Sanadid Brigade. The first will fight under Russian air cover and the second under US air support. The tribesmen are fighting with the blessing of Saudi Arabia.
The two columns will advance through two separate corridors.
The Russian-backed formation will head east from the town of Ash-Shula along the M20 highway. En route, they are tasked with completing the capture of Deir ez-Zour, after breaking through the ISIS siege last week, and mopping up ISIS fighters outside the town. After that, they will head northwest to their final destination, the border town of Abu Kamal.
The US-backed force will set out from the northern Syrian Kurdish province of Hasakeh and push on to the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates. (See map.) After crossing the Khabur, they will head along the Euphrates bank for the same destination, Abu Kamal.
Since the Russian and US air forces will both be operating in a very tight space, the US war room at the CENTCOM commander center in Baghdad and the Russian Hmeimim Air base in Syrian Latakia, will be coordinating aerial operations closely enough to prevent accidental collisions.
An agreement was reached between the US and the Syrian regime to drop references to “de-escalation zones” and instead talk about “deconfliction.”
Although the two powers have reached an unprecedented measure of accord for working together with their respective allies and proxies for a concerted effort to wipe out the last ISIS strongholds along the Syrian-Iraqi border, nonetheless certain areas are still unresolved:
1. Which of the two will take charge of the oil fields of Deir ez-Zour? Control of this oil-rich region region is a valuable strategic prize for the winner.
2. Which of the two formations will actually lead the battles for Abu Kamal and Mayadin?
3. And which of the two will be left in control of the Syrian-Iraqi border running through the Euphrates Valley?
Leaving any of these points up in the air is a recipe for major clashes between the pro-Russian and pro-US forces which have banded together pro tem against the Islamic State’s last stand.