After losing their stranglehold on Deir ez-Zor, Islamic State fighters have retreated towards the Euphrates River to prepare for their last stand in eastern Syria. According to The Guardian, "the speed of the assault in both cities continues to highlight the sharp decline in ISIS's fortunes, laying bare its increasing inability to fight as a large cohesive unit, and forcing it back to its roots as a guerrilla organization."
According to the British newspaper, ISIS leaders have taken refuge in the Syrian town of Mayedin, and retain a presence in the nearby town of Sukhna, as well as Bukamal on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly sighted. The US government said last week that there were "intelligence indicators" that suggested Baghdadi is still alive.
Russian aircraft have carried out many airstrikes against ISIS targets near Deir ez-Zor over the weekend, according to TASS news agency. During these strikes, the Russian Aerospace Forces eliminated four high-level field commanders, including ISIS's "minister of war" Abu Muhammad al-Shimali.
"As a result of a precision airstrike carried out by Russian warplanes near the city of Deir ez-Zor, a command center and a communication hub have been destroyed, while around 40 militants of the Islamic State terror group were killed," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
"Militant envoys and important field commanders planned to discuss the current situation and outline emergency measures to be taken given the Syrian government forces’ rapid offensive towards the city. After the information was confirmed and additional reconnaissance was carried out to better define the targets, two Russian warplanes – a Sukhoi Su-34 and a Sukhoi Su-35 – were scrambled from the Hmeimim air base, which delivered a precision airstrike dropping bunker-busting bombs," the Ministry said.