Vice News reports: The Islamic State group may have suffered several defeats along the periphery of its so-called caliphate, but so far no one has been able to challenge its control over the core of its territory. While the US-led coalition has escalated its airstrikes on the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure, the allied nations have shown little appetite for the grueling ground fight that would be needed to actually drive the group out of Syria’s east. And although Raqqa seems to serve as the Islamic State, or ISIS’, symbolic and administrative center in Syria, it is Deir al-Zour province that provides much of its oil revenue and serves as a critical link between its Syrian and Iraqi territories.
That may be about to change, thanks to a new force of eastern Syrian rebels with a singular focus on the Islamic State and, local sources say, quiet backing from the United States.
Known as the New Syrian Army or NSA, it first appeared in November in a YouTube video under its Arabic name, Jaish Suriya al-Jadid. Its aim is to retake Deir al-Zour, and it seems to have copious American weaponry and air support from the coalition on its side.
Based on interviews with involved rebels and informed local activists reached via Skype and social media, it is clear the NSA faces tough odds. Its numbers are reportedly few, in part because some Deir al-Zour rebels distrust its American backers. Yet the group, drawing strength from deep-seated local enmity towards the Islamic State, might still offer the best hope of pushing ISIS out of a key province. [Continue reading…]