Islamic State driven from last stronghold in Syria: officials

Deir al-Zour, the last Islamic State stronghold in Syria, was recaptured by the Syrian army and declared fully liberated, state-run media announced on Friday.

Syrian army units advance in Deir Ezzor, Syria, in September -- where Islamic State militants were driven out Friday. File Photo by SANA/EPA-EFE
Syrian army units advance in Deir Ezzor, Syria, in September — where Islamic State militants were driven out Friday. File Photo by SANA/EPA-EFE

After weeks of fighting, Syrian troops, aided by pro-government militias and Russian aerial bombardment, took over what it said was 95 percent of the city earlier this week.

IS forces massed in two neighborhoods until they were driven out, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

“Large numbers” of IS insurgents were killed and munitions depots were seized, officials said. Army engineering units then began clearing the city, once the home of about 240,000 people, of unexploded explosive devices IS left behind, the Syrian government news agency SANA reported, citing a military source.

Deir al-Zour, an eastern Syrian provincial capital, is of strategic importance because of its proximity to Syria’s border with Iraq. IS held the city on the Euphrates River since 2014, and designated it a crucial transfer point to move fighters and weapons between Syria and Iraq. In September the Syrian army broke an IS siege, freeing nearly 100,000 residents of the city.

The recapture of the city indicates that another part of the Middle East map was freed from IS control, which once spanned much of Syria and Iraq. IS still controls the border town of Bukamal, another strategic municipality on the road from Damascus to Baghdad. It also has pockets of resistance around Deir al-Zour province.

After capturing the city, Syrian government and pro-government troops concentrated its offensives in the province on the border town of Albu Kamal. Across the border, the Iraqi government occupied the nearby IS stronghold of al-Qaim after a week of fighting.

By Ed Adamczyk