US-led coalition won't attack ISIS in govt-controlled areas of Syria – commander
Still, the coalition won't go after Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists that are still holed up in territory under the Syrian government's control. “We will continue to deconflict with the Russians, but we have got no intention to operate in areas that are currently held by the regime,” Gen. Felix Gedney, of the British Army, the coalition's deputy commander for strategy and support, said at a Wednesday briefing. The general claimed that a “limited number of ISIS militants” have been moving toward Damascus, stressing that the coalition has no plans to confront them since the area is controlled by Syria.
While the coalition won’t leave Syria “until ISIS no longer poses a threat” and a UN-endorsed peace settlement is reached, it would be active only “in areas controlled by partner forces,” Gedney added.
“They seem to be moving with impunity through regime-held territory, showing that the regime is clearly either unwilling or unable to defeat Daesh within their borders,” he went on to say.
That's after the Syrian forces, backed by the Russian airstrikes, liberated some 98 percent of the Syrian territory from Islamist terrorists, according to late November statements by both the Defense Ministry and President Vladimir Putin. The remaining pockets of resistance, Putin said, are “quickly dissolving under attacks by the Russian Airspace Forces and its Syrian allies.”
On December 11, Putin announced the withdrawal of the bulk of the Russian contingent from Syria, following a two-year operation that lead to the defeat of “the most battle-hardened grouping of international terrorists.”
Since the launch of the campaign on September 30, 2015 at the request of the Syrian government, then deeply in retreat and in control of just 10 percent of the land, over 67,000 square kilometers of Syrian territory have been liberated and over 32,000 terrorists killed, according to the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Colonel-General Sergey Surovkin.
Russian warplanes were carrying out 60-70 sorties a day on average, targeting militants’ infrastructure and bases, while the international coalition contributed some 8 to 10, Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said in a recent interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. At the height of the anti-terrorist campaign, Russian jets were conducting up to 120-140 raids every day.
“It appears the goals of the coalition were different. Their main goal was the fight against Assad, and not against ISIS,” Gerasimov said.
Still, the US-led coalition rushed to declare the victory over ISIS was theirs and downplay Moscow's contribution, shortly after the Russian military announced Syria's liberation. US President Donald Trump bluntly said, “We’ve won,” in Syria and Iraq while praising himself and his Defense Secretary James Mattis for “knocking the hell out of” ISIS. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went even further, accusing Moscow of “appropriating” the US-led coalition’s achievements.