Remember when the extremist Al Qaeda spinoff ISIS (or, now known as Islamic State following the formation of its own caliphate in the middle of Iraq and Syria) was still a “thing” two weeks ago? In this case out of sight does not mean out of mind, and while the world has found a new story line to follow in the middle east with the war between Israel and Gaza, now in its 14th day – whenever it is not busy responding to emotional appeals about the MH 17 crash – ISIS has continued to expand and as Al Arabiya reports it “is now in control of 35 percent of the Syrian territory following a string of victories, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday.”
What’s more troubling is that ISIS holdings now include nearly all of Syria’s oil and gas fields. While these are hardly significant on a global scale, they certainly allow ISIS to preserve its self-sustaining and self-funding status.
One of the latest gains of the self-proclaimed “caliphate” was the seizure of the country’s biggest oil fields, in Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, earlier in the week.
Deir Ezzor borders Homs province as well as Iraq, where the jihadist group has spearheaded a major Sunni militant offensive that has seen large swathes of territory fall out of the Baghdad government’s control.
Meanwhile, jihadists have killed 270 Syrian regime fighters, civilian security guards and employees since seizing a gas field in Homs province, the Observatory added, according to Agence France-Presse.
The London-based group described Thursday’s takeover of the Shaar field as “the biggest” anti-regime operation by the ISIS since it emerged in the Syrian conflict a year ago.
“Eleven of the dead were civilian employees, while the rest were security guards and National Defence Forces members,” he added.
A counter-attack by Bashar al-Assad’s forces on Friday left 40 ISIS militants dead, Abdel Rahman said.
The Syrian government did not officially confirm the deaths, but supporters of Assad posted photographs of the dead, and described their killings as a “massacre”.
Ironically, it only took ISIS a little over a month to take over Syria’s energy infrastructure and cripple the Assad regime, something the US forces were unable to do last summer. Perhaps it is time for the Pentagon to retain them, i.e., al-Qaeda 2.0, as mercenaries?