Things have been going swimmingly for the SAA for the last couple of weeks. Initial SAA operations were characterized by slow going with jihadi counterattacks often succeeding. This was to be expected. The jihadis have been concentrating in the Idlib area for years, replenishing, refitting and preparing defenses. SAA operations were frequently halted by unexplainable ceasefires. But the combined air attacks by Syrian and Russian air assets and SAA indirect fire finally took their toll on the jihadis. The result was the encirclement of Khan Sheikhoun and all the jihadis south of there. The resulting cauldron was quickly reduced leaving the Turkish observation post at Morek surrounded by SAA and Russian troops. I bet the Turks feel silly sitting there. Operation Idlib Dawn continues.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have secured the key town of al-Tamanah in the southeastern countryside of Idlib. In the early hours of August 30, the army was able to besiege the remaining militants inside the town after capturing the northeastern hill of Soukaiyate and the northwestern hill of Sidi Ali. After securing the town, the SAA began a new push in the western direction, capturing the hilltops of Jabal Saghir, Turki and Sidi Jaffar.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the al-Qaeda-affiliated Wa Harid al-Muminin operations room and the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) attempted to hold onto their positions in al-Tamanah and its surroundings with their full strengths.
Pro-government sources are now claiming that the SAA will continue its operation and advance towards the city of Ma`arat al-Nu`man. However, this is yet to be confirmed. (South Front)
Al Tamanah lies about six miles east of Khan Shaikhoun. Its capture by the SAA secures the recent gains spearheaded by the Tiger Force or I should say the SAA’s new 25th Special Forces Division as the Tiger Force is now called. As part of the new name, the 25th is now fully integrated into the SAA command rather than being a militia force affiliated with Syrian Air Force Intelligence. This is a wise move undoubtedly orchestrated by the Russian advisors. There is no change in leadership within the 25th and probably no major organizational changes. What this does is normalize the Tiger Force and improve command/control and logistical support.
The real question is what’s next for Operation Idlib Dawn. Will the SAA move to take Kabani and the al Ghaab Plain or will the 25th Division spearhead a drive up the M5 to Ma`arat al-Nu`man? I don’t know and neither do the jihadis. That’s the way it should be. Slap a violent surprise on those sons of bitches.
Today the Russian Reconciliation Center announced another one sided ceasefire. These are exasperating to this observer. However, there may be a good reason for this. The Khan Sheikhoun cauldron collapsed quickly, perhaps too quickly. I saw no reports of jihadis streaming northward to avoid the encirclement. Perhaps they went to ground in tunnels, caves and among the locals. This hidden enemy must be dug out and exterminated in order to eliminate the possibility of an ugly surprise when the SAA does move north to liberate more of Idlib governorate.
I hope the SAA doesn’t move too cautiously, though. The jihadi defenses appear to be rapidly collapsing and their ability to counterattack appears to be near gone. The SAA should not allow them to recover once again. Fortune favors the bold.
I was waiting for this update!
Footage by ANNA News of the fighting culminating in the capture of KS doesn’t really indicate any major resistance by the jihadists groups. It’s my suspicion that they were either permitted to slip out of the cauldron or simply did so using seeing the greater operational situation and given several days that the M5 highway remained open to them.
And let’s hope the integration of the Tigers gets them into some sort of regular uniform and equipment, because they look like a raggedy-ass militia with their worn down vehicles and technicals.
The Syrian army around Kabani has showed poor, un-inspired leadership and their elements near Kabani have spent months with no progress. Very frustrating.
I would guess the ceasefires are to do with the politics of the operation, at some point an awful lot of Jihadi’s are logically going to be rounded up, what’s to be done with them ? Turkey appears to have closed its borders to any retreat into Turkey. I understand that a significant number of those left are foreign fighters, are they to be sent back whence they came, will the home state be willing to accept them, China might for the ~18k Uigher, or will they. Hard choices, difficult politics.
As Clausewitz said “war is the mere continuation of politics by other means”, now the Russians and Syrians (no Iranians, Hezbollah, Iraqi PMU or Yemeni Houthis) will go back to doing the “politics”. Yesterday’s protests at the al-Bab Crossing are the start of that. Erdogan has shown he’ll cast all the jihadists aside except perhaps for TIP, so they can stay in Idlib and face certain death, they can try going underground in Turkey, or they can establish ratlines and escape back to the whence they came -provided that’s not Russia, do the Russians care?
As for the encirclement south of Khan Sheikyhun, leaving the door open for a few days allowed all the jihadists to escape – I seem to recall looking at a map of the conflict before going to work one day and finding that the encirclement had ceased to exist except for the Turkish outpost when I got home that evening. HTS had quite obviously failed to make their promised stand. They have lost in Syria and they know it. Like East Aleppo and Douma, there will be no last minute “miracles” but they’ll most likely remember who failed them in the end.
BTW, I bet Erdogan regrets that he allowed that Russian jet to be shot down. The subliminal message, “don’t fuck with the Russians”.
It was actually WEST Aleppo that the R+6 re=took from the jihadis. The government never lost control of EAST Aleppo. I remain convinced that the basic motivating factor for Erdo and co. is neo-Ottoman irredentism in Syria and he will settle for what he can get there. If Idlib is not possible, then something less, all the while talking about terrorists. The recent retirement of several Turkish generals who did nt wish to serve in Syria says a lot.
Unhinged, the last thing I want to see is the Tiger Force soldiers saddled with 50 lbs of body armor and battery operated gizmos. That raggedy-ass light infantry working with the thermal sight equipped T-90 tanks and field modified technicals is a deadly combination. I’d be proud to serve with them as they are.
Jihadis captured in Syria? I suggest drum-head courts martial in the field. These creatures wish to face God and abjure the rights of Man. They should be sent to what they imagine will be their reward.
The campaign to re-capture the whole province should continue apace. “A beaten enemy must be pursued.” IMO an effort in the Ghaab Plain should be a secondary line of advance with the main effort along the axis of the M5. The government has a lot of militia forces that can be used to clean up behind the spearheads.
As for Erdogan, I agree he’s suffering a severe case of neo-Ottoman irredentism. I think Putin is supplying suitable medication.
More helmets would seem a prudent move.
The reports I saw at the time said that the terrorists were streaming south out of Khan Sheikyhun as the town was cut off, so your assumption that they went to ground could be a good one.
TTG, moon of alabama (b) suggests Turkey has cut off weapons to the idlib jihadi’s and is clearly attempting to prevent entry into Turkey (being invited to purchase Su-57s after the US blocked Turkey from joining the F-35 boondoggle seems to have swung the current Turkish allegiance).
Good point of many militia’s for cleanup allowing pursuit. Do you think the situation is such that hard pursuit would create a culmination point?
Separately, I wonder if the wooing of Turkey was a strategic Russian goal (and thus Syria’s by default) that drove the decision to very slowly and cautiously liberate Idlib while busing jihadi’s from around the country there as Reconciliation ceasefires – I recall Colonel Lang had recommended speedy liberation of Idlib to block the Turkish land grab.
OTH, the US has certainly done its best to push Turkey away in its (Israeli favored) policy of supporting the Kurds (and ineffectively harassing Assad from the east – ineffective as the US seldom now conducts aerial operations worth braggin’ about these months – too much Russian EW.
IMO US strategic mistakes have been to Israel’s (short-term) advantage.
I’m betting the jihadis will not abide by the ceasefire so it will not last long. Time to roll them up.
Several sites are reporting that an airstrike today hit a hi-level meeting at a jihadi guest house near Idlib City. Suggestions are it was by the international coalition and not by R+6? Speculation is that it was done either by Turkey, or by CENTCOM with Turkish intel support, or by Russia with Turkish intel support. In any case, even if by Turkey or CENTCOM, the strike had to be coordinated with the Russians.
The de-confliction regime between CENTCOM and the Russians still functions. If this strike on the jihadis near Idlib was CENTCOM that must be a blow to the neocon element in the WH.
CENTCOM is taking responsibility for the strike on the jihadi meeting near Idlib City.
Makes sense to me. Haras al-Din whose building it was, is known to have sworn allegiance to AQ an Zawahiri.
It would be interesting to trace the trail of intel bread crumbs that led them that meet. Turkish MIT possibly, and did the Turks get it from HTS who were not at the meeting and have been hostile to Haras al-Din in the past.
Thank you for the update.
Yesterday on the news (BBC Radio 4, the World Tonight) –
(Headlines at start, news report at 7 min)
Russian air attack. (“Double tap” air attack on a street market). Claims that the Russian aircraft had been monitored in to the site of the attack by observers on the ground. Conversations between Russian aircrews monitored. Eye witness accounts of the two air attacks. Denials from the Russians.
This then moved on to a long State Department interview. Listening to that interview, and reading the account of the position above, one is simply living in two different worlds.
Unfortunate that it is the BBC/State Department tinkered up version of events that will be the only one most of us will hear.
A shortened version on the BBC website –
What do you make of the US cruise missile attack on a meeting of jihadi leaders in Idlib?
Is this just a one-off or a change by Trump? How’s Bibi gonna react as he believes more fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iran is best for his maximalist plan.
I get the impression that Damascus has every intention to regain the whole of Idlib in this operation after the success of the last two weeks. The SAA is also massing in East Aleppo with the intent of finally driving the HTS jihadis out of that province as well. The original goal of Idlib Dawn was limited probably due to not knowing just how formidable the jihadi defenses were going to be. They were pretty tough in the first month or so of the operation. Now that they’re broken, the R+6 should continue north on the M5 and west from Aleppo.
Jack, I don’t know for sure if it was US or Russian cruise missiles. If it was the US, perhaps they were aiming for particular jihadis who know too much about the level of support we’ve given them. Of course, that’s just a WAG on my part. I’m now waiting to see what Bibi does about that Iranian tanker heading to a Lebanese port.
Oh the horror of an aircraft using a missle followed by a second missle.
“when an initial airstrike is followed by a second attack by the same plane,..” Which didn’t kill the rescurers shown in the BBC photo. Not to worry though, now that Syria is out of “barrel bombs” they are having to resort to missles which cost money and we know just how great the Syrian economy is doing right now, and their ally, Russia, well I’m told every day Russia is broke. So these things will soon be over. Good thing the US economy is doing well, the White Helmets will have no trouble finding a new job. Just in time for the 2020 election cycle too.
Maybe CENTCOM bombing Idlib is a punishment of Israel for bombing Iraq , Lebanon, Syria recently… USA probably does not want Middle East escalation? Just a guess.
The Australian media are full of white helmet crap yet again. You know – dropping barrel bombs on children’s hospitals etc. The attempt to rush the Turkish border was said to be by desperate refugees, not desperate jihadis. I keep wondering whose side we are on.
Jack, this is neither a one-off nor a change by Trump. CENTCOM has been hitting Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) since September 2014 over two years before Trump entered the WH. And Trump continued it after he was in office. He authorized a previous one on 30 June. There have been others in between. Not as often as the strikes against ISIS by international coalition air. My guess is that they had very few intel assets on the ground in Idlib and western Aleppo province, unlike what they had in northeasern Syria.
The next to last paragraph of this presser mentions the eight strikes on AQ camps in western Aleppo province back in 2014: https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/884858/sept-23-us-military-partner-nations-conduct-airstrikes-against-isil-in-syria/
CENTCOM has claimed responsibility. Not a precedent. The US has never given support to Haras al-Din, who was the primary target.
“I understand that a significant number of those left are foreign fighters, are they to be sent back whence they came, will the home state be willing to accept them, China might for the ~18k Uigher, or will they. Hard choices, difficult politics.”
They came from elsewhere to terrorize the people of Syria and plunder their lands. Sadly, most of them will slip away and likely end up on social assistance in Sweden or Germany, and carry their mind rot over to their brood.
SAA holds all of Aleppo except for the far western suburbs. agree with an axis pushing west from Aleppo once the jihadis start running from their present positions north of Khan Sheikoon.
@Pat 9:20 am
“It was actually WEST Aleppo that the R+6 re=took from the jihadis. The government never lost control of EAST Aleppo.”
No. It was east Aleppo city(!) the Jihadis had captured and which the SAA liberated.
There was also a successful campaign in east Aleppo governorate.
“The SAA is also massing in East Aleppo”
The SAA is massing in the suburbs southwest of Aleppo city which is the western Aleppo governorate. From there it will be one front axis generally along the M5 with another one coming up from the south. The third axis along the M4 to Jisr ash-Shhugur is a bit more difficult (mountainous, Uyghurs).
“What do you make of the US cruise missile attack on a meeting of jihadi leaders in Idlib?”
Probably not cruise missile as 7+ hits reported.
It was a coordinated action.
Turkey provided the intelligence. After closing its border and stopping to deliver new ammo Turkey has to fear the Jihadis. (Putin paid for Erdo’s ice cream.)
Russia cleared the airspace by announcing a (temporary) unilateral ceasefire. It also shutdown its GPS jamming.
The U.S. launched the weapons.
Note that the CENTCOM statement speaks of U.S. “allies and partners”. The “allies” are Turkey. The “partners” are Russia.
Would the Russian naval units at Tartus and on station come to the assistance of that tanker if the Israelis tried to board and detain it? Better yet, would the Russians supply an escort for the tanker in the Eastern Mediterranean? The cynic in me could well believe the Israelis capable of mounting a false flag operation against the tanker and blaming it on “Somali Pirates.”
I have no idea. that would be a policy decision for the Russians.
you need to go back and look at the situation maps at the time. Yes, the jihadis held a big piece of east Aleppo for a time but the city wsa essentially re-taken from east to west supplemented by concentric attacks from other directions.
One heck of an oil slick if the Israelis torpedo the tanker. There would also be a hue and cry if the crew were not taken off first.
Fred – Yes. On this sort of thing the BBC’s still usually carbon copy State Department. I don’t usually bother with the BBC radio any more but heard this as I was driving somewhere. Found it quite shocking, how they dovetail the false picture with what one knows of the true and with what might be true. There must be a lot of work going into that somewhere, I thought – I no longer believe that this is explicable just as groupthink.
b, the liberation of Aleppo was quite complicated with the R+6 and the jihadis besieging each other at the same time. The R+6 held the airport and the industrial area north of the airport. That area is what Colonel Lang and I are referring to as East Aleppo. The jihadis held the center and government forces were to the west of the jihadis. Then to the west of those government forces were more jihadis. Definitely a complicated situation. In the final battles, the R+6 forces cleared out the jihadis from the east to the west with supporting attacks from other directions as Colonel Lang described below.
It is jihadi attacks from their current positions in the western outskirts of Aleppo against the civilian population of Aleppo that is the impetus behind the buildup of SAA forces in Aleppo.
The hue and cry always comes after the fact and has no effect on either what happened or what will happen again. One can actually say that the hue and cry will be the only response, the huers and criers will be all proud of their words and deeply convinced of their virtue. The dead will remain dead.
I guess I’m the only one who thinks Putin will let Erdogan hold onto parts of northern Idlib.
I’m not sure Putin wants to clear the area beyond the de escalation zone. He might want to give Erdogan a break so he can speed up a negotiated settlement and bring the war to a swift end.
In military terms, this would be stupid, but in political terms, it makes perfect sense. Putin needs to strengthen relations with Erdogan in order to break up Nato and create a valuable partner in natural gas distribution throughout southern Europe.
Putin does not need to clear every inch of syrian soil from foreign occupation to achieve his broader geopolitical goals, in fact, humiliating Erdogan might negatively impact Russia’s real interests.
Bottom line: Putin needs Erdogan in his struggle against a belligerent and threatening Nato. He gains nothing by kicking Erdogan’s a** in front of the world.
HTS shot at and dispersed Idlibi civilians protesting Erdogan and trying to flee into Hatay at the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
So HTS is trying to keep their human shields in Idlib? Maybe doing it at the request of the Turks in order to get a new shipment of AT weapons? Possibly both. No way they are just doing it to maintain order.
If Erdogan ever had any neo-Ottoman ambitions, they have long given way to more pressing issues re Syria. Not only there is the threat of a new wave of refugees, which, this time round they will not offer safe harbor to. Perhaps most important beyond the Kurdish “threat,” is the seriously rising anti-Syrian sentiment, and even violence, in Turkey, especially in the large cities to which many migrated to from the camps in the border area. He is trying desperately to get them to move back to their camps or, better yet, to return to Syria, to dwell, despite their original regions, in the areas Turkey has occupied, such as Al Bab and Afrin.
A few thousand have taken up his offer, but are probably from that area. In both cases, much of the civilian population, very diverse, have fled, not just from the Turks, but from the jihadis that make up his local forces. They have been responsible for destroying sacred sites belonging to the Kurds, Yezidis, and Alevis [not to be confused with Alawites, who have also departed]. Obviously, anyone connect to the YPG got out some time ago. Erdogan has been trying to use demographic engineering in the same way that the Assad regime did and that Turkey has done in the southeast.
[[The populations in that region traditionally include: Sunni and Shia [Ismaili] Arabs, Alawites, Alevis [Kurdish speakers for the most part], Armenians, various Syriac communities, Armenians, Arab Christians, Yezidis, Mandeans, Mhallami [now an Arabic=speaking group that was originally Syriac, but converted to Islam during the genocide], Dom [the local distant cousins of the Roma, and who are known elsewhere in the Arab states as Nawwar], Turkmen [possibly also including Alevis], Circassions and Chechens.]]
Some of the Alawites and Christians are originally from Hatay, but fled when the French decided to hand it over to the Turks as they were departing in the 30s. Armenians are survivors of the Genocide, as are the Yezidis, who also followed other Armenians into what is now the Republic of Armenia, the Syriacs in that area [the Khabour River basin] were settled there, in separate communities according to their tribes by the French. They are the survivors of three massacres: originally in Hakkari, then in Urmia when it was occupied by the Turks, and also in Iraq, where the British did nothing to protect them.
Erdogan is still furious and fearful as a result of his AKP having lost control of the large cities in municipal elections. In Istanbul and Ankara, it has resulted in careful examination of government funds spend on the “NGOs” in the multi-millions and with members of his family on their boards. Eight new buildings almost completed, set to be given over to these organizations are now in the hands of the municipality and will be used for other purposes. The more they did, the more dirt they will find on a significant level.
He is also weak because these elections demonstrated that the sectors he assumed were loyal to him are now up for grabs. The opposition CHP and pro-Kurdish progressive HDP made a private deal that neither party would put forward candidates in areas where they were not competitive and instead ask their constituents to vote for the other. Suddenly, Ocalan’s lawyer and later his brother were allowed to visit him and no surprise, he had a message for the Kurds not to be fooled by the opposition maneuver and vote for the AKP! It did not work. Erdogan and Ocalan are real autocrats who need each other when the time to settle comes around.
The economy is still in the toilet. The retiring of certain military officers was accompanied by the reassignment to desk jobs of others who refused to move deeper into Syria. And consider that this is an army that just a couple of years ago was massively purged of all officers thought to be supporters of Gulen. It seems that the subsequent reorganization of the military and security services did not solve his problem with the military corp.
In sum, Erdogan does not hold all the cards in the country and even in his AKP, there is talk of his former and still popular associates to return to the scene. There is clearly an Erdogan and an AKP fatigue in the country. Next big elections are in 2024.