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US-led coalition targets IS fighters from stranded convoy

The militants were from a convoy that left Lebanon as part of a deal [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 September, 2017

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The US-led coalition has killed dozens of militants linked to a convoy of Islamic State buses stranded in the middle of the Syrian desert, the US military said.
Dozens of militants linked to a convoy of Islamic State buses stranded in the middle of the Syrian desert were killed in a US-led coalition airstrike, a US military official said.

Colonel Ryan Dillon, a US military spokesman, said the coalition has not targeted the convoy itself and was permitting food and supplies to reach the stranded vehicles, but he noted about 85 IS fighters either from the convoy or heading by vehicle to link up with it had been picked off.

"We have struck individual ISIS fighters, and fighters that leave in small groups to walk away," Dillon told Pentagon reporters in a phone briefing from Baghdad, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.

"As soon as they get far enough away from the buses, we have and will continue to strike ISIS fighters ... where we can hit them without causing harm to the civilians that are part of that convoy."

The convoy, which initially consisted of 17 vehicles, has been stalled in the Deir ez-Zour region since August 29.

US officials say about 300 IS militants were initially aboard, along with a similar number of civilians, likely family members.

The fighters had been headed from Lebanon to the Iraq border under an evacuation deal negotiated between IS and the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hizballah, which has intervened in the war in neighbouring Syria to prop up the Damascus regime and battle IS.

The 17-vehicle convoy split in two last week, with six buses heading west toward the Palmyra region, which is under Syrian regime control.

"Those buses drove further into western Syria, we just made the decision to stop monitoring it as they drew further into the interior," Dillon said. 

The coalition has offered to try to bring the situation to a head by contacting Russia and offering a proposal that would allow the civilians to escape.

Dillon said that proposal had not gained any traction, leaving open the fate of the IS fighters and the civilians.

"We don't see it as our issue," he said.

The United States was not party to the deal and had blocked the convoy just short of the border by bombing the road and a bridge leading from the Syrian town of Hmaymah to the IS-held town of Albukamal further east.

"IS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution," Dillon said in late August. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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