The operations to remove the last remaining holdouts of ISIS militants from the Lebanese-Syrian Border have begun, with both the Lebanese and the Syrian Armies reporting their first gains along the Ras Baalbek Region and the Western Qalamoun Mountains respectively.
The mobilisation of the Lebanese Army against the ISIS militants in the Baalbek region comes in the aftermath of the evacuation of the Syrian rebel groups Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham and Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated Saraya Ahl al-Sham during the first half of August. The Lebanese Army had been off the offensive against ISIS until the evacuations of the other groups could be concluded. The operations commenced on Tuesday, with the evacuation of the last remaining FSA fighters from the area.
Since the operations began on Tuesday, the Lebanese Army reported that the Kanzouha Hills, Marah al-Shaykh, Khaabiya al-Saghir, Tal’at el-Khanzeer, Shmeis Khazal, Khirbat Khazaal, Aqab Khazaal and Daher el-Khanzeer Hills have all been liberated. In conjunction, the Syrian Army, supported by the Lebanese Hezbollah, reportedly captured Sha’bet Younes, Harf Wadi al-Deb, Sha’bet al-Mahbas and the Hashishat Hills from ISIS militants.
Citizens in the towns of Baalbek, Qa’a and Fakiha have reacted with relief to the news of the Lebanese Army launching its operations in the region. Many of these towns have been living under the shadow of an ISIS invasion since 2014, with some militant positions as close as six kilometres away from the residential areas. Fortunately, much of the fighting in the surrounding countryside has not impacted the towns themselves, although the sounds of shelling could be heard over the course of the night.
So far, the Lebanese Army has not given an estimation on how long they expect the fighting the continue or when it will conclude. Officials, however, have been adamant that the security forces on both the Lebanese and the Syrian side need to coordinate in order to prevent ISIS militants from retreating and returning in force.