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Coalition-backed forces in Syria kill 20 ISIS fighters who 'moved freely' through regime territory

Coalition-backed forces in Syria kill 20 ISIS fighters who 'moved freely' through regime territory
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The United States-led coalition and its Syrian partners killed more than 20 Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and captured an unspecified number of others Wednesday in a clash near a key U.S. base, the coalition said Thursday.

The ISIS fighters, the statement also stressed, had been able to move freely through Syrian-controlled territory with a Russian military presence.

“Despite the presence of Russian-backed, pro-Syrian regime forces in the area, Daesh still finds ways to move freely through regime lines and pose a threat,” coalition director of operations Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga said in the statement, using an alternate name for ISIS. “We shall continue to work by, with and through our partner forces to deny Daesh the ability to regroup and reorganize.”

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Wednesday’s fight happened near al-Tanf, a base near Syria’s border with Jordan and Iraq where U.S. forces have been training local forces.

Given its location, the base has been seen as an important outpost as the United States, Russia and Iran jockey for influence in the region. Iran in particular is said to want to control a route running from Iran to the Mediterranean that would run through that area.

U.S. and pro-regime forces clashed near the base several times earlier this year.

In Wednesday’s incident, coalition-backed opposition group Maghawir al-Thawra detected the ISIS convoy in the predawn hours and “quickly and professionally conducted an operation to prevent their further incursion.”

Reports citing unnamed U.S. officials said the convoy had about 10 vehicles and got within about 34 miles of the base. The United States has established a so-called deconfliction zone of 34 miles around al-Tanf.

CNN, which reported on the incident first before the coalition statement, said 21 fighters were killed and 17 captured.

The statement said Wednesday’s incident was the second time in less than a month that ISIS has been able to move through Syrian-controlled territory. 

“Though Daesh has lost over 98 percent of the land it once controlled, this exchange is evidence that Daesh still poses a threat to the people of Syria,” the statement. “The coalition remains committed to standing with our partner forces to see a lasting defeat of Daesh.”