Liberation of Idlib Province soon?


"Key formations of the Syrian Arab Army – many of them elite outfits – are gathering strength on the front-lines of northern Hama and western Aleppo in preparation for a massive operation to lift the siege on two key Shi’ite villages deep inside rebel-held Idlib Governorate.

According to reports, most of the Syrian Army’s elite Tiger Forces detachments, under the direct supervision of their top commander Suheil al-Hassan, have arrived in northern Hama Governorate.

At the same time, other first-rate Syrian Army formations (not specified) have arrived on the western Aleppo frontier.

The general understanding is that the Syrian Army will conduct a multi-prong offensive via both fronts with forces in the northern Hama attempting to reach the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib Governorate and those in western Aleppo advancing to lift the siege on two key Shi’ite towns – Fouaa and Kafriyah – located in central Idlib, just north of the provincial capital.

With the Syrian Army still rushing reinforcements to both Hama and Aleppo, the actual date for the commencement of this ambitious offensive against armed militant groups in Idlib is still not clear."  AMN


Perhaps this reflects an elaborate deception plan carried out to distract attention from the east, perhaps.

OTOH, the plan reflected by indicators in this report would be devastating to the AQ affiliates (HTS primarily) in the province.  Action needs to be taken soon.  The jihadis have begun to probe the western approaches to Aleppo City and that must be decisevely ended so that a return to real life can continue in the city.

HTS has been moving forces north to confront a threatened Turkish advance into Idlib across the Hatay border supposedly in execution of the de-escalation agreement negotiated at Astana.  Perhaps this Turkish build-up is part of the putative deception plan, perhaps.

If there is really to be a drive into Idlib Province it will be instructive to see if the US and Israelis try to help their little jihadi friends.  pl

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34 Responses to Liberation of Idlib Province soon?

  1. PeterAU says:

    Latest article at AMN
    “DAMASCUS, SYRIA (11:50 P.M.) – Moments ago, Jaish Al-Izza (Free Syrian Army group) claimed it had gunned down a Russian chopper over the northern countryside of Hama….
    Jaish Al-Izza notably stressed it used a TOW missile launcher; this sophisticated weapon is manufactured in the US and has been supplied generously to FSA factions across Syria.
    ….Despite maintaining close ties to the US military, Jaish Al-Izza’s fights alongside Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch (Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham) on the northern Hama battlefield against the Syrian Arab Army.”
    Can a TOW be used to shoot down a flying chopper?

  2. Philippe says:

    Colonel, the Euphrates bridge is operational (TASS) :
    Russian army puts up bridge in record time to deploy heavy arms, aid across Euphrates (…) The bridge is 210 meters long. It can serve 8,000 cars a day. The bridge supports heavy armored vehicles, such as tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and multiple-launch rocket systems, Burovtsev said.
    That given, what is the most important strategic goal ? End the SDF rush to the oil fields and preserve the future ressources of Syria, or grind HTS and alikes ? The former seems more rational, don’t you think so ?

  3. Bandolero says:

    I don’t think the Idlib pocket of Al Qaeda is a that big problem. These terrorists are for their backers strategically of limited value.
    To clean up the terrorist mess, I expect first Deir Ezzor and the Iraqi terroritory opposite will become clean, than Barzani is given a closer look and after that all, Idlib is going to be liberated from Al Qaeda.

  4. mike says:

    Israelis most probably. The US has zero friends among the jihadis. But for sure there will be false stories and twitter feeds claiming that the evil American Empire doing dirt in Idlib.

  5. Thirdeye says:

    Whatever the plan is, there’s been serious bombardment south and southwest of Khan Sheikhoun going on for a few days now. The attack against the Russian MP installation seems to have been a political tipping point. It’s hard for me to make sense of such an attack when ISIS is on the ropes, other than maybe it was driven by internal politics among the jihadis or, as Russia has claimed, at the behest of the US. R+6 seems bent on consequences much more severe than those that followed the attack towards Hama last March.
    The US seems to have used up its wiggle room since Russia is directly accusing the US of fomenting attacks against Russia in both Deir Ezzor and Hama, and moving freely within ISIS-held territory. The US-Russia stance in Syria grows confrontational just as the confrontation with North Korea is looking truly dangerous. Oh, joy!

  6. aleksandar says:

    Huge convoy from Al Sahabat – Al Hawarith – Al Taramith regiments embedded with Tiger Force have arrived on the first line of battlefield Idlib province.
    Troops well manned, equipped and trained.

  7. Colonel,
    The picture in Raqqa of inadequate proxy forces compensated for by heavy bombing and artillery fire was unexpectedly confirmed this morning on BBC Radio 4.
    The BBC report included an eye-witness account of extensive destruction and stated few civilians were left in the city. The report characterised the SDF forces seen as “paramilitary”, some wearing flip-flops. A doctor was interviewed who stated 60% of the injuries were from mines. An estimate was given of some 400 Jihadis remaining and an eye-witness account was given of a further assault.
    The BBC report ends “Why did so much of Racqa have to be destroyed, so that it could be saved?”
    None of this will be news to you or to your committee but what is unusual is the uncharacteristically frank tone of the BBC report. It was put out on “Today”, a BBC radio news programme with a wide audience. It may be that the “Dual Narrative” period, when the media gave us a constructed story while the true story remained unreported, is coming to an end.
    If that is so then that period is ending considerably sooner than was the case after previous ME interventions.

  8. turcopolier says:

    It is quite cler that thr US provided a lot of material aid to the AQ affiliated jihadi groups. that is where they got all those TOW missiles. pl

  9. blowback says:

    Actually I’m beginning to suspected the bridge is, in part, a mis-direction for an operation in Idlib to liquidate HTS. The SDF/Deir Ez-zor Military Council seem to have won the race for the oilfields which could have been disrupted by the Russians placing a block on the road between Deir Ez-zor and Al-Suwar and establishing a base in the desert between Al-Suwar and the Iraqi border, and then claiming and enforcing a 30 km de-confliction zone around both those locations as the US did at Al-Tanf.
    At some point it may be used for an R+6 operation to clear the Euphrates Vallet to Al-Bukamel. With most of the principal towns on the west bank, it makes more sense for the R+6 to clear it all out
    The end of ISIS as a quasi-government entity is close and will almost certainly happen, so now is as good a time as any for R+6 to switch to eradicating HTS, the Al Qaeda affiliate. Once ISIS and HTS are eliminated the United States has no legal justification for remaining in Syria, so why should the R+6 fight for something they can negotiate for once the United States is gone. The SDF is really a US-run umbrella organisation for a number of disparate group who all have different political needs – when the United States dumps the YPG, why should the YPG give any support to the Arabs and Turkmen of the Deir Ez-zor Military Council. The Deir Ez-zor oilfields are a bargaining chip.

  10. Red Cloud says:

    “The US has zero friends among the jihadis”
    That is by far the most ridiculous claim anyone has made regarding US involvement in Syria

  11. blowback says:

    The attack on the Russian military police that was allegedly initiated by some secret part of the United States government:
    The allegation of US involvement – perhaps that was made to get Washington to pay careful attention to what happened and to put Washington at the start of the Idlib operation on the back foot. With the amount of violence being inflicted on Idlib, it appears to have worked, no complaints so far from Nikki Haley or Heather Nauert that I’ve seen.
    The reports of the damage inflicted on HTS and its associates, well that was a demonstration to the SDF/DMC of how things should be done if you are going to make exaggerated claims – make sure there is enough evidence to support them and get the details right. The SDF/DMC’s claims in Deir Ez-zor were evidence free while the Russian claims were at least backed up by HTS admitting that they lost more than 300 fighters and there were photos of damaged tanks, etc., enough to keep the media happy.
    Thirdeye said…
    “Whatever the plan is, there’s been serious bombardment south and southwest of Khan Sheikhoun going on for a few days now.”
    There has also been serious bombardments up north in Aleppo and around Jisr ash-Shugar, in fact across most of the terrorist-occupied territory in and around Idlib Governorate.
    It’s the quietest I’ve seen in 7-8 days.
    PeterAU said…
    “DAMASCUS, SYRIA (11:50 P.M.) – Moments ago, Jaish Al-Izza (Free Syrian Army group) claimed it had gunned down a Russian chopper over the northern countryside of Hama….notably stressed it used a TOW missile launcher.”
    Seems helicopter was shot down south of Khattab, 6.000 metres from frontline, maximum range of TOW, 4,500 metres. Perhaps it was Jaish Al-Izza SF operating behind
    enemy lines? Wait for the pictures/video to appear – none on Twitter yet but perhaps mike can suggest where to look.

  12. mike says:

    Colonel –
    The US did provide material aid to FSA groups, or groups pretending to be such. Many of those then became affiliated with AQ. Those groups may once have been thought to be our friends. But that is not true any longer.

  13. blowback says:

    “The US has zero friends among the jihadis.”
    How very true. Perhaps everybody would have been saved a lot of trouble if the US had realised this back in 1979 when Carter started funding the jihadists before the Soviet Union had even invaded Afghanistan.
    Washington should stop believing for real the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” junk rather than just pretending to, and stop hoping it can turn its most implacable enemies into friends by giving then millions of dollars worth of more weapons as it’s currently alleged to be doing.
    Russia might be able to wipe the United States off the face of the Earth and it may not do what it’s told by Washington, but Russia has no wish to destroy the United States whereas the jihadists do although they don’t say that in English.

  14. ThomasG says:

    If its low and slow enough then yes, it is possible. Its been done before, a Gazelle was shot down last year that way. As I recall the Gazelle was coming in for a landing.

  15. mike says:

    Blowback –
    I also suspect a deal has been reached with the SDF. Most likely it was put into place by Russian influence in Damascus.
    Walid al-Moualem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, has recently suggested that Damascus is open to dialogue with the Kurdish PYD. He said that the regime was willing to discuss some autonomy for ‘our Kurdish sons’ after victory against Daesh:
    My advice to the Kurds would be to beware of gifts. But I suspect they already know that.
    There seems to be no race for the oilfields despite the hype. We will see. If the SDF turns south towards al-Busayrah after completing the liberation of al-Suwar, that may indicate the race is on. Or maybe not, if the deal is now in place.

  16. mike says:

    Blowback –
    You seem to have the clairvoyance, so should already know where to look.
    But as I recall, similar TOW-vs-Helicopter claims were made two years ago. But it turned out the Russian MI-8 was brought down by AAA damage to tail rotor, crash landed but safely, pilot and crew got out and were rescued.
    Could a TOW take down a helo? Certainly if the helo hovered in one spot. But you need to look at all these claims as questionable until proven otherwise.

  17. Annem says:

    Oil fields and US justification to remain in eastern Syria/Deir Ez-Zor: Remember the POTUS remarks at the CIA early on about keeping the oil, what we should have done and what we should do next time. What is going on with the US oil companies these days re future music in Syria. Trump says that once ISIS is defeated, we are out of there, but don’t be so sure. [He is working out a deal with the President of Afghanistan that involves both the war AND minerals in that country.]
    In Syria, a lot depends on what the Arab and Turkmen communities in the area find in their interests. The US is supporting the “councils” that they and their SDF allies are setting up in Ez-Zor and it will be interesting to see how these interact with the people who were “liberated” by the R+6. While ISIS is our priority, that does not mean that we have formally accepted the Asad regime into the family of nations and that once ISIS is gone, we don’t go after them as well, regardless of the decisions of Russia and friends.

  18. sid_finster says:

    If it were true that Israel were supplying arms to Al Qaeda, that would be a serious and material violation of the terms of the contract by which those arms found their way to Israel.

  19. Laura says:

    Col and All — Thank you. This site has been so helpful in helping me sort through all of the news out of the Middle East. I’m not sure those of us without your knowledge and expertise and experience could ever duplicate the information and insight in any other way. THANKS!

  20. aleksandar says:

    The US have trained and funded Al ZINKI.
    A jihadist group.

  21. Sam Peralta says:

    The Al Masdar report of the shooting down of a Russian helicopter has been retracted.
    Something is up as the Russians are pounding targets in Idlib and other nearby provinces. Even long range bombers firing cruise missiles. Interesting that some of the Turkey supported jihadists got whacked hard in the counter-offensive by R+6 last week in Idlib after they tried to trap a Russian MP team.
    Maybe the R+6 are confident that they have enough manpower to crush jihadists in both DeZ and in Idlib.
    Some amazing photos of the Russian general helping out in building the pontoon bridge on the Euphrates before he got killed. Seems like a doer on the frontlines with his team.

  22. turcopolier says:

    Thomas G
    I saw a C-130 shot down on short final with a 57 mm recoilless rifle. pl

  23. confusedponderer says:

    re: “Can a TOW be used to shoot down a flying chopper?”
    I recall reading that in Iraq US choppers had trouble with unguided RPG-7 fired at them, and these light, small and cheap things are built to attack tanks, buildings and infantry.
    The use of RPG-7 against helicopters means that such weapons can be ‘adapted’ to be used at other targets. Example:
    What is still more vexing to Helicopter pilots flying combat missions in Iraq is the constant threat from RPGs. U.S. military helicopters are equipped with long-range sensors and devices to jam radar and infrared technology, but they have proven vulnerable to intense gunfire, as well as rocket-propelled grenades. In one new tactic aimed at helicopters, groups of insurgents have waited in places where helicopters frequently fly and then attacked with a combination of small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, The “swarming” strategy may have played a role in some of the recent crashes.
    The first shoot down from RPG is recorded on August 6, 1966 in Vietnam, when a ‘Stingray’ team UH-1E ‘Huey’ gunship was downed by ground fire, suspected to be a rocket propelled grenade fired by the NVA.
    This AH-64 suffered an RPG hit but managed to land safely. Others were not so lucky.During the Afghan war against the Soviets, the Mujahideen perfected anti-helicopter tactics by luring these into well placed ambushes, from which multiple RPGs would be fired at them in volleys. The Mujahideen found that a frontal shoot at 100m range was the optimum, but helicopters at longer ranges, 700-800m were also attacked; by using the explosion of the rocket’s self-destruct mechanism, although chances at this range deteriorated substantially. In order to get close to their targets, insurgents would lay ambush to hovering helicopters, by hiding RPG gunners in tree tops overlooking landing pads. The Al Qaeda technique, found in captured documents in Afghanistan, used to shorten the warhead’s time fuse, resulting in the warhead detonating much earlier in an air-burst, making it a highly effective and cheap weapon against low-flying helicopters.
    Perhaps the most publicized incident in which RPGs destroyed low flying helicopters was over Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993,when two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down by RPG in quick succession over the urban battlefield.

    The inverse text is from:
    That written, since downing a chopper can be done with easy and cheap stuff, then why not with a ‘big, expensive thing’ like a TOW also? I think Thomas G got it pretty right.
    My amateur view is this: Likely, if the target chopper is flying ‘static’ or on predictable course, or is landing, a good shooter may be able to get a hit with a TOW, at a longer range than possible with an RPG-7.
    Why? Well, the TOW is iirc wire guided and thus can be redirected on its flight to target. TOW means “Tube Launched Optically Tracked Wire Command-link Guided Missile”.
    That tells how it works: In flight, the TOW releases two wires over which it gets guiding commands, and it emits an IR signal. The launcher tracks that IR signature and corrected guidance commands can be sent to the misisle by the wires.
    That suggests to me that with an anti-helicopter use of the TOW the shooter needs to keep track on the target chopper for the flight time, and that the target chopper needs to stay within range.
    According to Wiki the missile needs 20 seconds to fly the max range of about 3750 or so metres. That likely necessiates only …
    (a) that the chopper needs to stay in range,
    (b) ought to be static and
    (c) that the missile shooter needs to keep the helicopter in target for that time – 20 seconds.
    If you get checks on (a), (b) and (c) – i.e. within these limitations hitting a helicopter with a TOW probably is doable. Thus the report may be true.

  24. Adrestia says:

    Oil fields and US justification to remain in eastern Syria/Deir Ez-Zor: Remember the POTUS remarks at the CIA early on about keeping the oil, what we should have done and what we should do next time. What is going on with the US oil companies these days re future music in Syria.
    The oil in Syria is not important. Before the war started about 400k barrels/day. Iraq and Iran each produce 10x as much and SA 20x.
    IMO the oilfields are only important as a cash source for non-state (yet) actors.

  25. Kooshy says:

    Mike god bless him, don’t think CIA is an agency of USA and as such is acting & oporating under US orders, he maybe thinks CIA is funded and is working for Martians.

  26. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Thanks for the link. May the earth rest lightly on General Asapov.He was a soldier.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  27. mike says:

    James –
    You say “the usa has no business being in Syria …”
    Surprise, surprise, I agree with that statement.
    However, that does not mean that you and I or anyone else should be gullible enough to believe Russian and Syrian Agitprop that claim we are supporting Daesh when we are doing exactly the opposite – blowing them into smithereens. We have also attacked al-Quaeda in Syria whenever we had hard intel on them.

  28. mike says:

    Aleksandar –
    al-Zinki are headchoppers and were also involved in kidnapping and torturing journalists and aid workers in Aleppo.
    The Turks provided the training, not the US. The group is named after a historical Turkish figure who ruled Aleppo, and all of Syria eight to nine hundred years ago. Yes the CIA did give them some funds way back before their true colors were known. This was done at the urging of the Saudis and the Turks, who some dumbass in CIA thought was good vetting.

  29. mike says:

    It appears that the helo was Syrian, not Russian:
    Any video available of the incident? The Gazelle that was taken out last year had already landed.
    Jash al-Izza did get some TOWs from Saudi stocks, and that deal was most probably brokered by the CIA.
    BTW – TOWs are also manufactured in Egypt and Iran, not just the US.

  30. Red Cloud says:

    “No race for the oilfields”
    The SDF has already taken the Conoco oil fields. Try to keep up

  31. Red Cloud says:

    The oil provides an economic base for a Kurdish state, so yes it is very important.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    There is insufficient oil for any Kudish State.

  33. Thirdeye says:

    How would a landlocked state with all land routes blocked by hostile powers turn oil into revenue?

  34. mike says:

    Red Cloud –
    They are gas fields not oil. Totally destroyed infrastructure there BTW. Inoperable.

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