BEIRUT — A US official on Wednesday blasted a deal that led to the evacuation of hundreds of Islamic State group fighters and civilians from the Lebanon-Syria border to areas close to Iraq, saying the extremists should be killed on the battlefield.
The evacuation agreement, the first such publicized deal, had already angered many Iraqis who accused Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of dumping the militants on the Iraqi border rather than eradicating them.
The top US envoy for the international coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, tweeted on Wednesday that IS “terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq’s consent.” McGurk added that the anti-IS coalition will help ensure that “these terrorists can never” enter Iraq.
Lebanese troops launched an attack against IS on August 18 while Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters launched a simultaneous offensive from the Syrian side of the border. Once IS extremists were squeezed over the weekend in a small part of the border area they agreed to a ceasefire.
Lebanon has defended its stance of not totally crushing IS saying that the evacuation of IS militants from the area helped in revealing the fate of nine soldiers that the extremists kidnapped in 2014.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun declared victory against IS Wednesday in a live statement from the presidential palace. Aoun praised the Lebanese army for carrying out the operation that ended with the deal to evacuate IS fighters and their families in return for information about nine troops who were kidnapped by IS in August 2014.
The remains of several people have been uncovered in the border area where IS had a presence and DNA tests are underway to identify whether they belong to the missing soldiers. Lebanese officials say they are almost sure the remains are of the soldiers.
“Our only consolation is that we knew the fate of the soldiers,” the president said. “We wish they were celebrating with us.”
Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun told reporters later Wednesday that as the army offensive against IS was ongoing, the Lebanese mediator called him to say that the extremists accepted a cease-fire in return for information about the fate of the soldiers.
“I had one of two choices. Either to go on with the battle and not know the fate of the soldiers or succumb and know the fate of the soldiers,” Aoun said.
The Lebanese army commander added that he cares most about the life of his soldiers and that one of the main achievements was to win the battle without going on with it till the end.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, President Bashar Assad received Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari who is on a visit to Syria. State media gave no further details.
Iran has been one of Assad’s main backers since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011.