Syrian Armed Forces will hardly advance on Raqqa, Deir az-Zor and Palmira shortly 32602163

Defence & Security News - Conflict in Syria
 
Syrian Armed Forces will hardly advance on Raqqa, Deir az-Zor and Palmira shortly
A series of victories by Syrian governmental forces in the past months created an illusion of a well-oiled military force of Damascus which can liberate the country non-stop from the last terrorist. The truce made some observers speak about treason and a new Minsk-2 agreement while others predicted plans of offensive into the territory controlled by ISIS which is banned in Russia, Expert Online observer Petr Skorobogaty writes.
     
Syrian Armed Forces will hardly advance on Raqqa Deir az Zor and Palmira shortly 640 002ISIS fighters in the streets of Raqqa (Source: Twitter @Independent)
     
Early this week the militants of the Caliphate dispelled all the illusions by launching a major offensive in the center of the country. To stop the advance and unblock the road connecting Aleppo with the coast the government troops had to withdraw major forces from the north. Combat capability of the government troops has increased of late, but they still do not represent a mighty and victorious force. Skorobogaty believes the government army desperately needs truce in such conditions.

The pace of the advance of the government forces in the past three weeks gives grounds for optimism. The frontline decreased nearly two times, from 110 to 60 kilometers. The result is due to rapid surrounding of the militants east to Aleppo. Just in several days the Tiger special brigade supported by Desert Hawks brigade and Cheetah special units surrounded a major force of ISIS militants and liberated several dozen villages in a short time.

The significance of the victory to the east of Aleppo is hard to overestimate. It not only decreased the length of the frontline but also reestablished control over a 15-kilometer section of the Aleppo-Raqqa road which will improve supplies between the city and the Kuweyris airbase. Before that the only supply route from Aleppo was some 90 kilometers long. Excessive troops can now be engaged in other operations but it will take time to redeploy them.

Fighting at other sections of Aleppo front acquired positional character. In the north the Kurds stopped offensive to the Turkish border and the last major town of Azaz. Ankara rushed to send hundreds of militants to the buffer zone while Russian aircraft reduced activities in the area as they are unlikely to provoke the Turks. The expected offensive of Assad's troops on Aleppo itself did not take place. Fighting in the city can trigger numerous losses for the government forces and total destruction for the city itself.

Last week terrorist stronghold Kinsibba was seized in Latakia. Government troops continued offensive on Idlib province taking over control of the mountains and M-4 road. A major unit of Assad's forces is reportedly concentrating in Kabana-Sirmania area which is a first step towards liberating Jisr-al-Fath. The Syrian Air Force dropped thousands of leaflets calling on Al-Fath militants to surrender the settlement which they seized in May 2015. Idlib can find itself in a deadlock if the terrorists in the province are simultaneously attacked by the government troops, Lebanese and Iranian Shia units from the northern Aleppo front.

Syrian geographic specifics (numerous deserts cut by roads) help the militants threaten the rear communications of government forces. This time a third of Assad's army (several dozen thousand soldiers from Aleppo group) found itself in a pocket. Al-Aqsa and Caliphate militants delivered a coordinates strike at the important road for Assad and seized several villages and the settlement of Hanasser with a garrison of several hundred soldiers. Control over several sections of the 30-kilometer long road has been lost. Some reports said the defense of Hanasser collapsed immediately. The sleeping Caliphate units in the town woke up and attacked the garrison from inside. Besides, most experienced government troops were sent to the east to advance on Tabqa and Raqqa while Hanasser was defended by young and inexperienced soldiers who arrived with the latest reinforcements.

On February 22 it seemed it was an insignificant attack of the militants, but on February 23 it became clear the terrorists have launched a well-organized and major offensive. As a result one of the most capable Tiger brigades had to be redeployed from the north and will have to eliminate the consequences of the militant attack instead of launching a new operation. It is likely the unit advancing on Tabqa will be partially recalled as well. Communications are the main target of the militants after their failure to the east of Aleppo and in Deir az-Zor. The Caliphate is likely switching to guerrilla war. This is confirmed by recent terrorist attacks in Homs and Damascus which took a toll of two hundred lives. ISIS claimed responsibility for that. Tactically senseless explosions in civilian areas will not improve positions of ISIS militants at the frontline but they can undermine the emerging consolidation of Syrian society and Assad's regime.

It is most likely the Caliphate will resort to guerrilla war in the eastern direction as it faces major problems in northwestern Syria where Kurds are active due to air support of the western coalition. Last week the Kurds for the first time advanced to the borders of their native lands and seized the town of Shaddadi thus cutting off two main roads that linked ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria. A strike was delivered at the economic stronghold of the Caliphate as Shaddadi surroundings host oil fields and a gas processing plant. ISIS sent major forces to the area and stopped the Kurdish offensive. They attempt to regain control over Shaddadi. In such a situation it would be premature to predict Kurdish advance on Deir az-Zor.

As for the history of truce and cessation of hostilities, characteristic examples may be cited. In 2012 the rebels seized the Syrian city of Homs. Government troops launched an operation to free it but were stopped by western political pressure on Assad. As a result Damascus lost the city and some territories. Flows of foreign militants and arms began to arrive through Turkish and Jordanian borders. ISIS emerged in Iraq and immediately destroyed the local US-trained army and got access to major arsenals. The second truce in 2014 nearly cost Assad his head as he lost 80 percent of the territory.

Today the situation is different. A two-week truce with potential prolongation is to begin on February 27. Regardless of who of the militants support it the measure will allow to separate moderate militants from radicals and will stop accusations against the Russian-Syrian coalition of destroying the opposition.

The main issue for Washington is to define territories where hostilities would be allowed and a list of small groups falling under the agreement. It is a difficult task. The Syrian front is not only a layer-cake with mixed zones of control. Sometimes it is impossible to determine to which gang that or another unit belongs. The terrorists easily change their ideological tint depending of political situation and the will of sponsors. Still the truce puts bandits into a deadlock. If they reject it they will be listed as radicals and killed. If they accept it they may be called traitors and killed by neighbors who reject the truce. That will make them side with the government forces. The variety of gangs in Syria has long played into the hands of Assad opponents. Russia worked to separate the mess into component parts and thus put the gangs against each other, Skorobogaty believes. If some groups agree to cease fire they will get a chance to negotiate honorary capitulation. Russia has long been working for that as a mediator and succeeded a lot as moderate militants are surrendering by cities.
     
Syrian Armed Forces will hardly advance on Raqqa Deir az Zor and Palmira shortly 640 001Anti-Assad protests in Baniyas
     
Bashar al-Assad has recently announced an amnesty to all former military who defected and joined his enemy. In the beginning of the war such defectors formed the Free Syrian Army as their brigades joined the rebels. The truce is a good possibility to reach out for them if not by Assad then by Russian advisers.

However the fundamental issue is about territories rather than militants who will not fall under the agreement. The fight will continue against ISIS and Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda affiliate) and other radical groups listed by the UN Security Council, for example, Al-Sham.

The Russian defense ministry said fighting has to continue in Idlib and Aleppo, in the north of Hama and Homs. The chance for truce is higher in the southern Deraa province as the Southern Front is believed to be reasonable. There are also 15 thousand men from the Free Syrian Army who listen to Jordan and Israel and often clash with Al-Nusra which is also active in the south. Truce in Deraa has been in force for several days without any declarations.

This means combat activities will continue practically on all Syrian fronts but depending on the climate factor. In March there is khamsin wind in Syria which brings sand storms that raise tons of sand, dirt and stones into the air. Air temperature often exceeds 40 degrees with gale winds. Satellites go blind and air strike performance decreases. On the ground every living creature looks for a shelter. Khamsin is translated as 50 from Arabic as it is believed the wind blows from the desert 50 days a year. The intensity of the storm varies of late and it is impossible to predict for how long it will stop the fighting. Still it is necessary to be ready and plan upcoming strikes.

Khamsin will hardly allow any advance on Caliphate positions in Raqqa, Deiz az-Zor and Palmyra. Russian air support to the infantry will get complicated and there are other reasons as well. Assad's forces will have to stretch communications and deploy in scarcely populated localities. Damascus lacks combat ready troops. The militants demonstrated in Aleppo their ability to strike at rear garrisons of Assad's army.

There are two priority options. The first is the Idlib province. After Latakia is freed from militants the government army will liberate Jisr al-Shugour and advance along the Turkish border to cut the militants off the last supply route. From the north government troops and Shia units will advance to unblock Shia region of Fua-Kafrai which has been surrounded for long. The double strike will make the front collapse. Aleppo will then fall without logistic supplies. However the option is possible if the truce does not cover the area.

The second offensive option is to the northeast of Aleppo through the towns of Manbij and Al-Bab in order to unite with the Kurds. Thus, the government forces will seal off the Turkish border in the north and cut short direct contacts between the Turks and the Caliphate including trade in oil, slaves and achaeological values. As ties will be disrupted with Iraqi territories in Shaddadi the north will be finally lost for Caliphate mostly from the economic point of view.

As for Raqqa, it is likely that neither the government army not US-backed Kurds are planning an offensive on it in the near future. The maximum they can do is to create a fortified stronghold near the Tabqa airbase to accumulate forces. The task for the western coalition is to neutralize even a hypothetical possibility of an assault on ISIS capital.
     
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