2016 al-Bukamal offensive
|Al-Bukamal offensive (2016)|
|Part of the Syrian Civil War and|
the Military intervention against ISIL
|Commanders and leaders|
|125–200 NSA fighters||Unknown|
|Casualties and losses|
40 killed, 15 captured (ISIL claim)|
25+ killed or captured (SOHR claim)
5–40+ killed (NSA claim)
|20 killed (NSA claim)|
On 28 June 2016, the New Syrian Army rebels launched the offensive from al-Tanf and captured the village of al-Sukkariya (north of al-Bukamal), the nearby Hamdan Military Airfield, the Ayshat al-Khayri Hospital (in northern al-Bukamal) and several positions in the desert between the Tanf border crossing and al-Bukamal. NSA troops were airlifted to the area by three Coalition helicopters and the advance was aided by FSA covert supporters inside the city. At the same time as the operation started, it was reported that Iraqi Federal Police forces were preparing to simultaneously attack the town of al-Qa'im, on the Iraqi side of the border. However, Iraqi Sunni tribesmen were the ones in fact involved in the operation, and acted ”precipitously and insufficiently in their role”, alerting ISIL of the offensive. ISIL then proceeded to cut power and communications in al-Bukamal, followed by digging trenches around the city.
On the next day, US air cover was withdrawn in the middle of the battle to attack to take part in the Battle of Fallujah. Due to this, ISIL recaptured the airbase, pushed the rebels back from the outskirts of al-Bukamal, and attacked the supply lines of the NSA through the empty desert. ISIL fighters encircled the rebels in a surprise ambush. They reportedly inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels and weapons were seized by the jihadists. The rebels initially retreated to the outlying desert areas, before fully pulling back to their base at the Tanf border crossing, 200 miles away.
The offensive was described by some as a ”crippling defeat” and a ”Bay-of-Pigs-style fiasco” for the rebels, while the SOHR director stated after the defeat that the whole operation ”was more a media show than anything else”. The U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated, in regards to the pulling back of the air support for the rebels, ”We missed an opportunity”.
In an ISIL propaganda video, the NSA suffered 2 known deaths on the battlefield along with 3 fighters from the Ahmad al-Abdo Martyr group who were killed in an ISIL ambush while retreating from al-Bukamal. ISIL, however, claims 40 NSA deaths and 15 captured along with the seizure of a large amount of weaponry consisting of mostly heavy machine guns, mortars, and assault rifles. In addition, ISIL suffered 20 deaths according to the NSA in a combination of a total of 13 Coalition air-strikes and their ground offensive operation. In one instance, a pro-NSA sleeper cell group in al-Bukamal detonated a car bomb that killed 3 ISIL fighters.
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