A correspondent with Al-Masdar News based in Damascus has confirmed that the Syrian Amy has crossed the Euphrates which runs through Deir Ezzor on Monday. The river forms a natural demarcation line separating Syrian government forces and their allies from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF):
DAMACUS, SYRIA (4:00 P.M.) – The Syrian Army was capable today of crossing the Euphrates River after fully recapturing Sakr Island located to the north of Deir Ezzor Airbase.
Heavy Russian and Syrian airstrikes have pushed ISIS militants away from the eastern bank, paving the way for the government troops to set foot in the eastern bank for the first time in years.
With crossing the river, the government forces are inching closer to re-take the remaining territories under ISIS control. However, this will also put the Syrian forces face to face with the US-backed Kurdish forces; which launched its own offensive against the Islamic State in Deir Ezzor.
Other Middle East monitoring groups as well as regional correspondents have also confirmed the breaking news which could lead to a fresh outbreak of direct hostilities between the US-SDF alliance and Syria-Russia alliance:
SOHR says Syria army in Deir Ezzor has crossed Euphrates. Waterway serves as informal demarcation line between US & Syria/Iran-backed force.— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) September 18, 2017
We noted over the weekend that as Russian and Iran-backed Syrian troops are moving in from the west, and with US-backed SDF forces operating mostly on the east side, the two factions have mostly stayed out of each other’s way in their "fight against ISIS" with the Euphrates acting as a dividing line. It now appears that dividing line has been breached by the Syrian Army - as Russian media is now keen to show the world (see screen shot of a Russian broadcast from location today).
On Saturday, a senior aide to President Bashar al-Assad said the government would fight any force, including the U.S.-backed militias, to recapture the entire country. ”I‘m not saying this will happen tomorrow ... but this is the strategic intent,” Bouthaina Shaaban said in a TV interview according to Reuters.
Deir Ezzor situation map as of Monday morning (9/18). Source: Within Syria Blog
Ironically, The U.S.-led coalition said last week that the SDF did not plan to enter Deir Ezzor city, where Syrian troops recently broke an Islamic State siege that had lasted three years. Just a few days later, however, they appeared to have changed their mind.
Meanwhile, seeking to maintain the offensive momentum, a pro-Damascus military alliance launched attacks on Saturday from the southern corner of Deir Ezzor province to drive Islamic State from the Iraqi border. The last local vestige of the Islamic State is also coming under attack by U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces just over the border from Syria’s Deir Ezzor inside Iraq.
With the fate of Deir Ezzor - and much of the oil in the region - set to be sealed in the coming days, the Syrian war which has gradually disappeared from both the front pages and the public consciousness is now making a strong comeback in world headlines, especially as Syria/Russia/Iran seems to now be gaining full control of this key regional outpost.
Damascus would give up on Syrian oil field to US proxies for what reason and why? Wishful thinking.https://t.co/XmyHqPMiy2— Elijah J. Magnier (@ejmalrai) September 18, 2017
The airspace over Deir Ezzor is potentially growing even more dangerous as there have long been rumors that the US coalition previously declared a de facto no fly zone (NFZ) over the north/eastern side of the Euphrates. In the meantime, Syrian and Russian air operations in the area will only increase with Syrian army advances.
According to Reuters over the weekend U.S.-backed militias, which have included various and assorted Al-Qaeda offshots, spinoffs and reverse mergers, said they came under attack from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir Ezzor province.
As there's been no military response from the US coalition after the reported attacks, it's likely that the two sides are talking through a long established military deconfliction phone line. In the weeks prior to things heating up in Deir Ezzor, The Navy Times initially described the deconfliction line as follows:
The U.S. is talking multiple times a day with Russia to deconflict ground and air operations in Syria, according to Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Russia and the coalition have agreed to some deconfliction lines in the middle Euphrates River valley,” Townsend said, but he added that “not all of it yet” has been decided.
...It became clear that there needed to be a ground component to the deconfliction hotline with Russia, Townsend said. “It gets tougher [to communicate] with a force that isn’t friendly but not necessarily an adversary,” Townsend explained. “Those rehearsals have allowed us to come up with measures that seem to work,” he said. “We were able to work through that then.” Between air and ground deconfliction, “someone is talking to the Russians multiple times a day,” Townsend said. “It’s a fact of life.”
Will the US and its SDF proxy on the ground allow the Syrian Army to recapture sovereign Syria territory across the Euphrates? At this moment at least, it is looking like the US will not intervene on behalf of its proxy. Syria is probably further feeling new impetus as Iraqi Kurdistan is now threatening to move forward with its September 25 referendum on the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, which would no doubt attempt to carve out SDF occupied parts of eastern and northern Syria.