Militants in a Syrian stronghold near Iraq have abandoned some bases and redeployed their forces and armour from other positions, with the U.S. military poised to strike, activists said Wednesday.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS) has “started to empty out many of their bases and positions in Deir Ezzor province,” said Abu Osama, an activist from the eastern region mostly under jihadist control.
Speaking to AFP via the Internet, Abu Osama said all of ISIS’s known positions in Eshara, a town about 60 kilometres (45 miles) east of Deir Ezzor’s provincial capital, had been “shut down”.
Abu Osama also said the jihadists had emptied out the former governorate building in Deir Ezzor city, which IS had turned into their main weapons storage depot in the area.
And in the city of Mayadeen near the Iraqi border, “Daesh (IS) pulled out of eight bases, leaving only three open — the (former) post office, the military intelligence building and the religious court,” he told AFP.
“Even the oil fields are being emptied out. The families of the foreign jihadists who had been living in the residential buildings by the fields have been evacuated,” he added.
IS fought a major battle against rival jihadists and rebels earlier this year, taking control of the vast majority of oil-rich Deir Ezzor province and expelling all its rivals.
The Damascus regime still controls parts of Deir Ezzor city, as well as the province’s military airport.
The militants pulled out amid the threat of expanded US air strikes against their positions.
In August, the United States launched air strikes targeting IS positions in neighbouring Iraq, where the jihadists had spearheaded a lightning offensive beginning in June that saw large swathes of territory fall from government hands.
The United States has since called for a global coalition to fight IS and has threatened strikes on jihadist “safe havens”, including those in Syria.
According to an activist in the northern Syrian city of Raqa, IS’ main bastion, the jihadists have maintained their positions.
“The bases have stayed put, though Daesh have pulled out their weapons from some of their positions,” said Furat al-Wafaa, using a pseudonym for fear of retaliation.
“But inside the city, Daesh’s presence has been maintained despite the threat,” he told AFP.
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