There are unconfirmed reports that the Syrian army was caught unawares by Daesh forces advancing on Palmyra because its radio-communications had been jammed, Rick Sterling, an investigative journalist and member of the Syria Solidarity Movement, told Radio Sputnik.
On Sunday, Daesh attacked and recaptured Palmyra, which had been liberated from the terrorist group by the Syrian army with the help of Russian warplanes in March. The ancient, UNESCO-recognized city had suffered for eight months under Daesh control, during which countless examples of priceless antiquities were deliberately destroyed, in line with the group’s aberrant interpretation of Islamic law.
Rick Sterling, an investigative journalist and member of the Syria Solidarity Movement, told Radio Sputnik that some 4,000 – 5,000 Daesh militants had traveled to Palmyra from other areas of Syria and Iraq.
“The reports are 4,000 to 5,000 ISIS (Daesh) militants were able to overrun the checkpoints and advance from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor as well as from eastern or western Iraq, and overrun the forces that were protecting Palmyra,” Sterling said. Daesh militants have been under attack in Mosul since October, when Iraqi government forces, Peshmerga fighters, Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces and the US-led coalition launched an offensive to liberate the city, which is some 600km away from Palmyra by road.
In the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, just 220km and 200km away from Palmyra respectively, Daesh militants have also come under attack from Syrian government forces and paramilitary groups such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has the support of the US-led coalition.
“The Syrian army has put a lot of forces in Aleppo, to liberate the entire city there, so the number of defenders in Palmyra has been reduced recently, so that helped enable this sudden attack by ISIS (Daesh), which shows just how dangerous they continue to be.” “One other factor is going back a couple of months, when the US military attacked and killed over 80 Syrian soldiers in Deir ez-Zor. At that time, the Syrian army was making strong advances against ISIS (Daesh) in Deir ez-Zor, and the attack by the US coalition really stopped that and gave momentum to ISIS (Daesh) at the time. So it just shows how interconnected everything is, the Syrian army is fighting on so many fronts,” Sterling said. On September 17, US-led coalition aircraft carried out four strikes against the Syrian army near Deir ez-Zor airport, which killed at least 62 soldiers and left some 100 wounded. The Pentagon said that the airstrike was a mistake and was intended to target Daesh militants, while a number of Syrian officials stated that the attack was intentional. Daesh may have been able to amass so many fighters around Palmyra without the detection of intelligence services because the militants traveled in smaller numbers to evade detection. “They certainly weren’t doing the huge convoy they did when they took Mosul in June 2014. They are dangerous fighters; they were presumably coming in smaller groups.”
Sterling said there are some unconfirmed reports that the Syrian army was caught off-guard by the Daesh attack because of communications interference by foreign intelligence services.
“There are unconfirmed reports that the VHF (Very High Frequency radio spectrum) communications that would have allowed the Syrian army to detect the movement was jammed. One unconfirmed report was that the US air force was jamming the frequency waves between Raqqa and Palmyra,” he said. Currently, the Syrian military is reportedly moving forces into the region to carry out a counter-offensive in the coming days and protect a military airport to the west of Palmyra. “This is definitely a set-back, (but) it will hopefully be short-lived, so hopefully the Syrian army and allies will be able to recapture it relatively soon. It will be a huge step forward if the Syrian army and allies can capture all of Aleppo, if the small terrorist-held neighborhoods in Aleppo can be taken that will free up a lot of soldiers to go into other areas, Idlib as well as Homs, Palmyra, and strengthen the forces there as well as in Deir ez-Zor.” On Monday the Syrian army announced the liberation of Aleppo, after four years of conflict. The authorities said that only three residential blocks remained in the hands of the city’s terrorist groups, after the army succeeded in ousting the militants from their last refuge in the east of the city.