Damascus, U.S.-backed Syrian rebels were pushed back from the outskirts of an Islamic State-held town on the border with Iraq and a nearby air base on Wednesday after the jihadists mounted a counter- attack, two rebel sources said.
The New Syria Army rebel group had launched an operation on Tuesday aimed at capturing the town of Al-Bukamal from Islamic State and cutting supply and communications lines for the group between Syria and Iraq, the U.S. coalition fighting IS said.
One rebel source said Islamic State fighters had encircled the rebels in a surprise ambush. They had suffered heavy casualties and weapons had been seized by the jihadists, the source said.
“The news is not good. I can say our troops were trapped and suffered many casualties and several fighters were captured and even weapons were taken,” he said.
A spokesman of the New Syria Army, Muzahem al Saloum, confirmed the group’s fighters had retreated. “We have withdrawn to the outlying desert and the first stage of the campaign has ended,” Saloum told Reuters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the New Syria Army had been driven entirely from the province of Deir al-Zor, where Al-Bukamal is located.
Saloum said most of their fighters had returned to their base at al-Tanf, a Syrian town southwest of Al-Bukamal at the border with Iraq and in neighboring Homs province, but that there was still fighting in the southern desert of Al-Bukamal.