In a surprise move that few analysts expected, the US led anti-ISIS coalition operating in Iraq and Syria has bombed parts of the ISIS convoy previously given safe passage out of Lebanon as part of a controversial deal brokered early this week with the Lebanese Army and its allies. Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillan had previously warned that, “We will take action where necessary; those would be absolutely lucrative targets.” And it now appears the US coalition followed through by attacking the vehicles as they traveled across Syria to the Islamic State stronghold of Deir Ezzor.
The initial warning was issued in reaction to the controversial deal that followed ISIS' defeat in northeast Lebanon. Since July the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah, and the Syrian Army have attempted to root out ISIS from positions in the western Qalamun area of Syria and the Jurud Arsal border region of Lebanon. The fierce campaign has had some degree of assistance from US special forces, acting in an advisory capacity for Lebanon's military.
The territory was fully liberated Monday (August 28), but only after Lebanon struck a deal with the about 300 remaining ISIS fighters and their families which would allow them to lay down their weapons and exit through Syria in a convoy of buses (though reportedly allowed to carry light weapons such as rifles). Though ISIS was clearly defeated, the deal allowed for the turnover of the bodies of 9 deceased Lebanese soldiers previously kidnapped in 2014.
But the United States harshly criticized the deal soon after its announcement. Coalition spokesman Col. Dillon said further: "We are not party to this agreement between Lebanon, Hezbollah and ISIS." He specifically targeted Syria's role in facilitating the ISIS convoy's exit: "Their claim of fighting terrorism rings hollow when they allow known terrorists to transit territory under their control. ISIS is a global threat, and relocating terrorists from one place to another is not a lasting solution.”
Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah first outlined the deal in a victory speech Monday night, which he indicated involved the transportation of 26 wounded and 308 ISIS fighters, along with 331 civilian family members via buses and ambulances to Syria's eastern province. Nasrallah also declared the operation to be a complete military victory, adding that August 28th would be remembered as Lebanon's "Second Liberation Day".
But Lebanon's ceasefire agreement immediately sparked controversy in the region, especially in Iraq, whose leaders see the deal as intentionally allowing more terrorists to settle at its own border. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi lashed out at the brokers of the deal:
The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, faulted Syria for relocating the Islamic State fighters to its eastern frontier, which is the border with Iraq.
“We fight the terrorists in Iraq,” he said in a speech on Tuesday. “We do not send them to Syria — we kill them in Iraq.”
Mr. Abadi called on the Syrian government to investigate the decision to relocate the Islamic State fighters.
On Wednesday the US-led coalition confirmed the strike on the group of ISIS fighters which left the Lebanese border region. Though it's unclear where exactly the strike took place, multiple reports described the convoy being stranded in the middle of Syria after air strikes destroyed the road they traveled on, while also targeting multiple vehicles which were racing to join the convoy.
An official coalition press release aggressively called out Russia and the Syrian government. "Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control," the statement said. The statement also confirmed air strikes on individual ISIS vehicles and that "the Coalition cratered the road heading east between Hamaymah and Abul Kamal to prevent the further transport of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners...".
And yet the US has itself routinely cut deals with ISIS and facilitated the movement of its convoys on a much larger scale, which has served to increase the terror threat. One astute observer of the Syrian war compiled a summary which proves the US coalition's statement to be hypocritical and false:
This is ridiculous. Over and over the U.S. gave ISIS all chances to grow and to escape destruction. It itself made similar cease fire and retreat deals with the Takfiris.
The ISIS core was groomed in a U.S. prison in Buqqa, Iraq. It later came from Iraq into Syria. Obama as well as then Secretary of State Kerry are on the record saying that they intentionally let ISIS grow to oust the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and the Syrian President Assad. The U.S. let ISIS flee from Fallujah and protested when the Iraqi government bombed the escaping ISIS convoys. In the assault on ISIS held Mosul the U.S. military held open a corridor towards Syria to let ISIS fighters escape. When the Kurdish U.S. proxy attacked Raqqa the front towards Palmyra was left open to let ISIS flee. Russia protested. Recently 1,800 out of 2,000 ISIS fighters fled from Tal Afar towards Syria before the Iraqi army assaulted the city. This is why it could take the city in just 10 days. U.S. action was designed to enable ISIS to take Deir Ezzor and only a heroic defense by Syrian troops prevented that.
Moreover in August 2016 the U.S. military itself made a deal with ISIS in Manbij, Syria, and gave free passage to retreating ISIS fighters.
Meanwhile in the northern Syrian city of Manbij US troops reportedly came under fire by Turkish-backed FSA groups. The coalition confirmed that, "Our forces did receive fire and return fire and then moved to a secure location." The Americans returned fire and no casualties were reported.
CNN, which first reported the exchange, included the following awkward admission in their coverage of the incident:
Many of these Turkey-supported forces originated as part of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and they have also clashed with the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in a struggle for influence in the region.
This is possibly the first known incident of FSA "moderates" which were politically backed and funded by the United States firing directly on US forces in Syria. Though many commentators have been quick to chalk this up to the "complexity" of the Syrian battlefield, it is yet more confirmation of those of us who warned early on that training and funding so-called "moderates" in Syria would in fact quickly result in expanding the ranks of terrorists who would undoubtedly soon turn their guns on their American benefactors.