The US-led coalition has killed dozens of Takfiri linked to a convoy of ISIL buses stranded in the middle of the Syrian desert, a US military official said on Thursday.
The convoy, which initially consisted of 17 vehicles, has been stalled in the Deir Ezzor region since Aug. 29. US officials say about 300 ISIL Takfiris were initially aboard, along with a similar number of civilians, likely family members.
The militants had been headed from Lebanon to the Iraq border under an evacuation deal negotiated between ISIL and Hezbollah following battles between the terrorists and Lebanese army in the Lebanese side of the border with Syria and between ISIL and Hezbollah and Syrian army in the Syrian side.
The United States had then blocked the convoy just short of the border by bombing the road and a bridge leading from the Syrian town of Hmaymah to the ISIL-held town of Albukamal further east.
Colonel Ryan Dillon, a US military spokesman, claimed the coalition has not targeted the convoy itself and was permitting food and supplies to reach the stranded vehicles, but he noted about 85 ISIL fighters either from the convoy or heading by vehicle to link up with it had been picked off.
“We have struck individual ISIL militants, and militants that leave in small groups to walk away,” Dillon told Pentagon reporters in a phone briefing from Baghdad.
“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 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.