WASHINGTON — Coalition airstrikes stopped hundreds of ISIS militants and civilians Wednesday from moving from one threatened ISIS enclave in Syria to another hundreds of miles east.
ISIS had negotiated a ceasefire with Hezbollah, the Lebanese government and the Russian-backed Assad regime that included a deal to evacuate ISIS militants and their families from an enclave on the Lebanese border and move them — through Assad regime territory — to another ISIS-held area on the Iraqi border.
The U.S.-led coalition had not agreed to the evacuation plan.
"The Coalition was not a party to any agreement," said U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in a statement. "Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control."
CENTCOM said in its statement that coalition aircraft cratered the road in front of the convoy to stop its movement but did not strike the convoy, which included women and children in buses.
According to CENTCOM, coalition planes instead struck nearby vehicles and fighters that were clearly identifiable as being with ISIS. The convoy had not reached its destination in the ISIS-held area of Abu Kamal along the Iraq border when the jets struck, U.S. military officials said Wednesday afternoon.
Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told Reuters that he did not know if the convoy was now in Syrian government territory or in ISIS-held territory. Another U.S. official said the U.S. believed the relocated ISIS fighters intended to cross into Iraq, but that the convoy has not yet crossed the border.
The Hezbollah-Assad deal with ISIS was meant to end the presence of ISIS along the Lebanon-Syria border.
"ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with, is not a lasting solution," CENTCOM said in its statement.
"In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the Coalition will take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to without harming civilians," the statement added.
The top U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said in a post on Twitter Wednesday that ISIS fighters should be "killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq's consent."
Lebanon, Syria and Hezbollah agreed to the ceasefire with ISIS and the evacuation deal this weekend after clashes earlier this month.
The Lebanese government has defended the deal, in which the militants revealed the location of the remains of nine Lebanese soldiers who were captured in 2014, according to the Associated Press.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told the AP that negotiating with the militants was the "only way" to resolve the "humanitarian and national" issue of finding the remains of the Lebanese soldiers.
Col. Dillon told the AP that Wednesday's airstrike hit vehicles identified as belonging to ISIS that were traveling from ISIS-held territory toward the convoy.
"We are monitoring their location in real time," Dillon said, adding that the coalition "will not rule out strikes against ISIS fighters being moved."