From The Wall Street Journal:
“As U.S.-backed forces pursue high-profile offensives on Islamic State’s two remaining major strongholds, the militants are quietly bracing to make a last stand in a remote resource-rich Syrian province, according to residents and the group’s fighters.
Military commanders and families of Islamic State fighters have been bused to Deir Ezzour province, they said, from both Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, the de facto capital in Syria of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Both cities are under intense pressure from the U.S.-led coalition.
The militants are regrouping in Deir Ezzour because of its economic and strategic importance as a hub of oil and agriculture, according to Western officials and current and former Islamic State fighters. With the group’s survival at stake, its financial needs outweigh the symbolism of holding Raqqa.
“The red line is where the oil and the resources exist, it will be protected as much as possible. It’s not important where Islamic State is located—we proved that we can come back anywhere, anytime,” an Islamic State commander said in a Skype interview. “But places like Deir Ezzour are irreplaceable.”