WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Islamic State (IS) fighters stuck on buses supposed to carry them across Syria from the Lebanese border to Abu Kamal, on the Iraqi border, have begun “brawling in the dirt,” after supplies of food and water were delivered.
Eleven buses are trapped in the desert, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Baghdad, told the Pentagon press corps on Thursday.
As the convoy of fighters and their families started out, there were 17 buses, but six turned back on Sep. 2 after US airstrikes blocked the road.
The eleven remaining buses are in an area controlled by the Syrian regime, and supplies come from Syrian-held territory. But they are evidently insufficient—hence, the “brawling” over the limited supplies.
The coalition does not attack the buses because there are non-combatants on board, and it does not attack the vehicles delivering aid because IS is its only target. The coalition also does not know precisely who is delivering the aid.
Dillon was confident that the IS fighters could not get to Iraq, strongly denying reports that some had managed to escape. Indeed, he reported that 85 IS fighters had been killed, some from the convoy after leaving the buses, and others trying to approach them from IS-controlled territory.
On Aug. 28, in an agreement brokered by the Lebanese Hezbollah and backed by Syria, Beirut allowed nearly 700 IS fighters and family members to leave in exchange for IS returning the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers captured three years ago.
Erbil, Baghdad, and the coalition all strongly protested the deal.
Several Iraqi figures, however, all linked to Iran, have defended that agreement. They include former Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who referring to the Lebanese Hezbollah, affirmed, “We are in a united front fighting against terrorism.”
Other proponents include Jamal Jafaar al-Ibrahimi, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
In 2009, the US Treasury Department placed Muhandis and the group he headed, Kata’ib Hezbollah, on its sanctions list for attacking US troops.
The Treasury Department described Muhandis as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” head of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, noting that the Quds supported several other terrorist organizations, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
It also noted that Muhandis “participated in the bombing” of the US and French embassies in Kuwait and “the attempted assassination of the Emir in the early 1980s.”
Qais al-Khazali, another major Iranian-backed, Hashd al-Shaabi figure, also supported the Hezbollah-brokered deal. Like Muhandis, Khazali was involved in attacking US forces before 2012. He was imprisoned at Camp Cropper. However, after US troops left Iraq, Baghdad “promptly released” him, The New Yorker explained.
Kurdistan 24 asked Dillon about the involvement of such figures as Muhandis and Khazali in the Hashd al-Shaabi, and their support for the Hezbollah-brokered deal. He responded merely that the militias “have committed to following the orders of the president of Iraq.”
Dillon also revealed the coalition’s skepticism about Syria’s campaign against IS.
Earlier this week, Syrian forces broke IS’ siege of Deir al-Zour. “There is concern,” Dillon acknowledged, “about whether or not and how serious the Syrian regime is about defeating” IS.
“I’ve heard this brought up,” he continued. “Are they going to squeegee them out of Deir al-Zour” and “push them elsewhere?”
“Not if we can help it,” he concluded.
Editing by G.H. Renaud