Al-Bukamal is a Syrian 100,000 citizens town located on the southern bank of the Euphrates River along the border between Iraq and Syria.
On the entire area between the southeast of Deir ez Zor and the east desert of the Homs province because of their small population and large distances to the “hottest” areas of the war in Syria there have not undergone major fighting, but rather decisive raids or skirmishes that determined who would control the area.
Since the end of 2015 a group called NSA (New Syrian Army) has been operating in less populated desert areas of the governorates of Deir ez Zor and Homs. It is a USA-Jordan supported, trained and armed group to face IS on these areas in which so far they have not found contestation.
On 28 and 29 June there was a short skirmish between elements of the NSA and ISIS when the former suffered a small defeat while trying to conquest al-Bukamal. If you are interested on this battle I recommend you the article of RaoKumar.
But what interests us here is, why the NSA and its sponsors chosen to concentrate their rather scarce resources on al-Bukamal and not anywhere else? How important is this town?
First al-Bukamal is Syrian key of the N4 highway that runs along the southern bank of the Syrian Euphrates from the border with Iraq to Lake Assad, passing major cities like Deir ez Zor, Raqqa and Taqba, an area where runs the backbone of the caliphate.
Moreover, on November 2015 the Kurds conquered the strategic town of Sinjar, key to control the road 47 that allowed direct communication between the two capitals of IS, Mosul, their Iraqi capital and Raqqah, their Syrian capital.
Since that moment communications between Mosul and Raqqah must be made on a much longer route. It should go along some of the roads from Mosul headed to the south and then went to the point of passage on the Iraq-Syria border and oh surprise! just when you cross the Syria-Iraq border you found al-Bukamal.
NSA operation probably was aimed at control and disrupt the traffic between the Syrian and Iraqi parts of the caliphate, thus putting the icing on the cake that began to be cooked in Sinjar.
But the importance of this enclave does not end there, because Raqqah or Mosul will fall (and one will do it before the other) so in that case is likely that the caliphate efforts will pass to concentrate on the remaining capital, and when such jihadists from an alleged conquered Mosul would want to go to Syria, where would they go throw ?. Certainly one possibility would again be al-Bukamal, which makes us think that when a withdrawal of one of the parts of the caliphate to the other the NSA even with the support of Western special forces might try to control this strategic location to “catch” a as much retreating terrorists as possible.
But the importance of al-Bukamal do not end here.
There was an operation on October 2008 committed by the special forces unit Task Force 17 in al-Sukariya, in the north of al-Bukamal (source). There special forces killed Abu Ghadiya, a “facilitator” for the passage of jihadists from Syria to Iraq for AQI (remember that Islamic State was AQI on the past).
The fact narrated above is nothing more than an illustrative example, the truth is that there were three major routes called “ways of rats” wich during the years of the Iraqi insurgency against US were used by Al Qaeda to send volunteer fighters through them passing through Syria and Jordan. It is likely that these routes were generally used to carry out all kinds of illegal activities related to smuggling, weapons black market and of course to move volunteers to the insurgent groups based in Iraq.
And here is where comes into play again al-Bukamal, since in all likelihood is not an unknown area to IS because when they were operating in the shadow as a criminal organization they probably had important interests on the area so if the enemies of ISIS in Iraq or Syria destroy the caliphate it will not disappear, but rather will mutate in an insurgent guerrilla force that will probably need to retain some infrastructure in key border cities like al-Bukamal to move money , weapons, men and any other kind of elements, hence al-Bukamal has great importance and it should be a valuable objective to control.
Taking in to account all the information expressed above we can expect more NSA attempts to control al-Bukamal, even with Western special forces support and specially on the eventuality of the fall of one of the capitals of IS.
Author: Leigh Neville Original title: Special Forces: In the war on terror (about the 2008 SFs operation)