WASHINGTON — A bus convoy carrying several hundred ISIS fighters and their family members toward the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria is now hurrying back toward the country’s interior, according to Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the U.S-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The retreat developed as coalition warplanes cratered a road to halt the advance of the convoy on Wednesday. Coalition planes also struck several vehicles carrying ISIS fighters that tried to approach the convoy, Townsend said.
The convoy carrying the ISIS fighters is part of an agreement hatched between the Syrian regime, Lebanon and Hezbollah to evacuate the ISIS militants and their families after Lebanon launched an operation to cleanse the Syria-Lebanon border area nearly two weeks ago.
The coalition is not part of that agreement and nor is Baghdad, Townsend said.
The bus convoy carrying innocent civilians was at no time struck by coalition planes, Townsend said.
According to officials in Baghdad, the coalition will do everything it can within the Laws of Armed Conflict to stop the convoy from moving east towards Abu Kamal.
When approached by reporters on Thursday about what those measures would entail, Townsend said: “We have all kinds of ways. I prefer ISIS find out when they make their attempt.”
This is not the first time coalition forces struck ISIS fighters evacuating or fleeing under an agreed arrangement with other warring parties on the Syrian battlefield.
Back in April, coalition planes lit up ISIS fighters fleeing Tabqa dam after the group negotiated with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, for safe passage out of the embattled city.
The coalition was not party to that agreement either, Townsend said.