"The Islamic State (ISIL) suffered a major setback, Saturday, when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) captured their last stronghold in the Aleppo Governorate.
For more than three years, the Islamic State has occupied the town of Maskanah, which is located near the provincial border of the Al-Raqqa Governorate.
Due to its location along the Aleppo-Raqqa Highway and its proximity to the large city of Tabaqa, Maskanah was an invaluable town to the Islamic State forces.
With its loss on Saturday, the Islamic State now finds themselves on the verge of being completely expelled from northern Syria, pending Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) upcoming Raqqa City offensive.
Once Raqqa City is lost, the Islamic State will no longer have a presence in northern Syria." AMN
TTG and I have bemoaned the narrowness of the Ihtriyia/Khannasar track to Aleppo. This seems to us to have been a commander's nightmare. The question would be "how do I keep this damned road open with Jihadi Idlib Province on the west and IS held parts of Aleppo Province to the east. The road is perpetually threatened. (Hang in there. Look at a map.)
SAA, led by the Tiger forces, has been advancing to the SE in east Aleppo Province. Yesterday they captured Maskanah and presumably will continue to advance until they meet the SDF near Tabqah.
In the process of this advance they are progressively "uncovering" the Ithriya/Khanassar/Aleppo Road to the west. This is a great benefit to the Syrian Government. pl
Many Syrian Air Force sorties on Maskanah flew out of Kuweires Airbase Saturday. Kuweires had been under siege by Daesh for several years and was up until just a month or two ago basically useless as an airfield. I believe this was the first use of Kuweires in years.
Maskanah was indeed an important milestone. Progress ought to be swift now to the SDF front lines near Tabqa.
The $64,000 question on this front now seems to be whether the SDF will yield the territory recently seized by them south of the Euphrates. I’d be interested in views on the likelihood of this. If they do, the SAA will be able to swiftly advance to a position just a few km from Raqqa. A big chunk of Daesh territory in central Syria will then be surrounded on 3 sides and Deir Ezzor will actually be closer than it is now from the SAA’s Palmyra front.
Doubtless things are not this simple, but if a truce with the SDF is possible, it is hard to see much stopping the SAA from retaking much of central Syria in the coming months.
As I read all the views on the war in Syria, I am starting to have some questions that this committee may have answers to. I have no military experience, other than 38 days in the Royal Swedish Cavalry, drafted by mistake and most of that time spent arguing with military professionals that they had indeed made a mistake, since I was still in school.
But what is making me wonder, is the nature of this conflict. How accurate are conventional analysis in this war? Does most of this follow prior experiences? Does the fact that is is just another episode in millenia worth of warfare in the region?
To me it seems to resemble what happened in Spain prior to WWII. With large outside actors involved in a civil war and the result of that was terrible, both locally and internationally.
I guess the main question is: Is this something new, or are there historical lessons? Has the world changed enough to make predictions obsolete as soon as they are made?
I know there are plenty of experience available here and hopefully it will illuminate the situation.
“The special forces of the 124th Brigade of the Republican Guard have protected the Ihtriyia-Khannasar highway for two years, thus maintaining Aleppo’s lifeline to the rest of Syria. The highway is relatively safe thanks to this detachment’s efforts in repelling several ISIS and Nursra joint assaults from both directions.” – Southfront.
They must have done and continue to do an excellent job. Apart from brief interludes of jihadi occupation from time to time, the road has generally been kept open. Would be very interested in the tactics they employed to achieve this. I’m guessing priority air support, high mobility, heavy firepower, and mastery of maneuvering during clashes.
I’m mainly relieved that Maskaneh was captured by coup de main the way Deir Hafer was. ISIS seemed at a loss for any defensive plan once their defenses between Makhdoum and Jirah airbase were breached. With some luck, maybe ISIS is equally unprepared to defend the Raqqa-Salamiyah highway against attack from the north. Gaining control of it would put the SAA in the rear of the Homs bulge and the Al Suknah front east of Palmyra.
The news from Deir Ezzor is very bad.
Isis has tried many times to rout the SAA and capture all of the city.
Can you explain why Deir Ezzor is so important strategically to Isis?
Clearly, they are going to lose Raqqa, so losing Deir Ezzor is only a matter of time.
I can’t figure out why they are accepting heavy losses when it doesn’t look like they will be able to hold the city long-term.
What am I missing?
Sir, did you see the NYT Magazine story on Aleppo: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/magazine/aleppo-after-the-fall.html ? More evenhanded than most of what’s out there.
How do you protect something like the Ithriya/Khanassar/Aleppo road? Lots of small checkpoints every few kilometers that would end up being prime targets for large SVBIEDs or a handful of fortified villages and mobiles forces to remove any blocks on the road? A block is only worthwhile if it’s strong enough to prevent movement of materials long enough to deplete the stocks of those materials on the far side of the block. So, provided the Syrian government maintained several weeks worth of supplies stockpiled in Aleppo, any block put in place by ISIS was worthless to them and a good opportunity for the SAA/SAAF/RuAF to butcher ISIS with little risk of collateral damage if all the civilians had been evacuated. Increasing the width of the defensive zone would increase the number of villages that needed to be defended or evacuated
It seems to me that the SAA/SAAF/RuAF/etc. have put quite some thought here into how to kill the terrorists while limiting their own casualties and collateral damage. It might not be what a western military would or could do but it seems to have worked for the Syrians.
The tiger forces are working at a tremendous pace. I have endless respect for them.
I wonder what will happen to the daeshis who can’t pretend to be locals, as the defeats pile up and the ‘state’ ceases to be, will they migrate from stronghold to stronghold as they’re overwhelmed, like Frankish Crusaders? Will they try to get to Idlib, or just head back home? The Caucasians, the Uighurs, the Germans and French of North African extraction can’t swim among Syrians like anything but those very colorful reef fishes.
Given Chechens’ role as elite forces and commissars in daesh, it will be interesting to see whether the majority choose to make a last stand for Raqqa or try to leave the sinking ship, and carve out their own section of Idlib.
As Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian forces close in on ISIS, the retreating mass are being compressed in the vicinity of the Euphrates river basin, which includes the Deir-ez-Zor city area. It’s possible, therefore, that Deir-ez-Zor could become ISIS ‘battle of the bulge’ moment. Taking a city like that would prolong the Caliphate.
Perhaps ISIS are following orders from their paymasters, whoever they may be, to capture Deir Ez-zor to block the SAA from the Euphrates south of Raqqa.
BTW, this attack seems to be against the northern area of government control rather than the southern around the airport.
Fascinating analysis, as always. However, one can’t wonder about the overall remaining mobility and ‘viability’ of a force that has been in the field for six years with precious few reserves or opportunity to re-fit…complicated maneuvers at this point would be likely asking too much and would require considerable preparation. Secondly, the fact that such brave though now well-worn units after so long can still gain the upper hand illustrates what I have long suspected: The Daesh Project was never planned to be more than a brigand army whose widely scattered acts of disruption, demoralization and destruction were considered to be sufficient to force a quick ‘fait accompli’ switch-out of Assad. As always, the first thing to die in a war are the assumptions of its planners.
Fisk forecast retreating Daesh forces being bad for Deir Ezzor back in February:
Syrians will Remember Deir Ezzor whatever the outcome, but I wouldn’t cast the heroes as Travis Bowie & Crockett just yet.
Well, I don’t agree with any of that. Military units are not anything like machines that wear out with extended use. Instead they are organic human social structures that do not necessarily wear out like a machine. I recommend to you the chapter in “vom Kriege” that deals with the military virtue of an army. As for the fighting quality of IS perhaps you should look at the quality of their effort in the present defense of Mosul or at Deir al-Zor. pl
Brzezinski & co. may have envisioned a brigand army, but the reality is rather different. The Caliphate is a 100% militarized society founded by officers from Iraq’s disbanded regular army. Every member of the Caliphate’s army (all males) is a potential bomb, on foot or in an appropriate vehicle. Indoctrinated pre-teens are taught how to detonate a suicide vest and “surrender” is not in their vocabulary.
If Russia had not intervened when it did it is perfectly possible that Damascus would have eventually fallen. Daesh would then have moved on to new territories whilst it’s success sucked in ever more jihadis. The closest parallel I can think of for Europeans experiencing this alternative outcome is the 13th century Mongol invasions. At that time it was considered that a new, incomprehensible enemy might be the forces of the Antichrist come to destroy the world.
Almasdar News is now reporting that the SAA has stabilized the front line and started retaking lost ground.
There’s this from that NYT article:-
“A nongovernmental organization in Europe has been working for years to gather documents that would tie the Syrian leadership to these crimes in a Nuremberg-style trial. That prospect is remote, but there are signs that Assad, too, may be worried about whose eyes are watching him. This month, the State Department released satellite photographs suggesting that the regime is burning the bodies of executed prisoners in a crematory at the Sednaya prison complex, north of Damascus, in an alleged effort to hide evidence. The Syrian regime called these charges a “new Hollywood plot.”
This NYT article is a “narrative adjustment exercise”. That’s a polite way of saying that the press start out by giving us one story but later, when it becomes apparent that the story they were selling is nonsense, they have to try to move to the new story without us noticing the change. Easier than it might seem, since who’s going to remember what a newspaper or TV programme was were saying last month and compare it in detail with what they’re saying this.
Not so easy in the case of East Aleppo since the difference between what the press said was happening in East Aleppo and the reality that later became apparent was quite noticeable.
The picture of the relief of East Aleppo that used to be put forward was of a beleaguered people suffering the genocidal horror of a brutal Russian/Syrian attack. Now it’s become apparent that that wasn’t true, and that the people suffered under the rebels and were in the main glad to be shot of them. This is an article that helps us over the transition between the two stories. PR’s not just a question of dutifully putting out the latest press statement. There’s a lot of hard work involved and here we see a NYT writer getting stuck in to it.
I have to admit that this NYT work is a cut above what the BBC manages in that line. That’s probably because the American internet scene is more sceptical than ours so smoothing over such transitions calls for more skill your side of the Atlantic.
Horrible business, this PR stuff, and I’m slightly ashamed of myself when I notice it in action. If you want a breath of fresh air try Vanessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett. I can’t vouch for their accuracy or impartiality but at least they give it to you straight.
PR aside, the NYT article glosses over or fails to mention three essential facts. !) The Syrians believe that the bulk of the forces sent against them were imported from outside Syria. Since there are no good figures for how many were imported you can’t say that for certain, but that the problem came from outside is undeniable. The writer fails to mention that many of the Jihadis were, one way or another, Western trained or equipped. 2) The relief operation was conducted in such a way as to reduce civilian casualties. I don’t suppose it did, much, except at the end but the relief of East Aleppo compares favourably with similar recent operations in the ME. 3) The Russians put in military police to prevent subsequent looting and that did prevent a good deal of it.
The experts here will pull me up if I’ve got anything above wrong, but you don’t have to be an expert to see that that NYT piece cited isn’t honest journalism.
“Every member of the Caliphate’s army (all males)…” I recently watched a video on al Jazeera on-line about cells of ISIS operatives high in the Hindu Kush trying to make their way north through the Stans into Russia,
their ultimate target & about a 1/3 were female.
We can all hope the Qatari’s have to recall their terrorists to protect them from the Saudis and the the Saudis have to recall their terrorists to protect them from Qatar’s terrorists. That would make the world a much better place.
The sheer recklessness with which ISIS is attacking at Deir Ezzor has signs of desperation. ISIS sees the imminent threat to Al Suknah developing with SAA attacking east of Palmyra and are reportedly trying to reinforce that position – such as they can under very costly interdiction. They must know that if they lose Al Suknah while SAA holds Deir Ezzor it would be disastrous for them.
They, the Qatari and Saudi-sponsored terrorists have started fighting and killing each other in Idlib. Just to inflame things further, Faylaq Al-Sham(MB so Qatari-backed) shot up The Saudi Sharia cleric, ‘Abdullah Al-Muhaysni, a senior member of HTS, which will most likely result in retaliation. Although I’m not sure why HTS would bother since ‘Abdullah Al-Muhaysni was largely responsible for the loss of East Aleppo to the SAA.
SAA Tiger Forces have recaptured the Thawrah oil field south of Tabqa. They have also cut the Rusafah/Ithriya road at the junction with the Tabqa road. They have been joined by elements of the Russian military.
There are now only a handful of Daesh held villages between them and Ithriya. If they advanced to Ithriya it would give some breathing room to the Khanassar road and cut off the last remaining Daesh pocket in Aleppo Province.