Syria War Digest – 20 April 2016


Various interesting developments in the news today:

  • A major R+6 offensive is shaping up with a lot of Russian artillery being moved forward to support an effort to capture Jisr al Shugur in Idlib Governorate.  A number of the best Syrian units are to be involved in the offensive.
  • At the same time rebel forces are trying to conduct a parallel but somewhat opposite offensive to re-capture control of the Turkish-Syrian border in Lattakia Governorate.
  • In spite of repeated Syrian Government statements that an effort is underway to capture the rebel held parts of Aleppo City, the Russian government says that is not so, but fighting seemingly intended to reduce the rebel held parts of the city continues.
  • In the far eastern Syrian desert the IS besieged, but government held, city of Deir-al-Zor is in desperate straits.  In recent days IS has captured several important parts of the city within the previous successfully defended perimeter and IS now threatens the capture of the military airfield.  The Syrian Air Force  military airfield there is key terrain.  Without that airfield the logistical situation of the SAA and the citizens of the city would be very bad.   There have been air drops of supplies into the city.  Russian air force aircraft have participated along with the SAF in both the air drops and deliveries at the military airfield.
  • MG Suhail al Hassan (the Tiger Man) is reported to have been switched back to the Palmyra area to take charge of a drive up the highway to Deir al-Zor to relieve the situation.  Does this mean that the Syrian Government now thinks that the fall of Deir al-Zor would be a greater threat in the IO war than the re-capture of Aleppo City would be a benefit?
  • All over Syria rebel forces and IS are attacking, seemingly to reduce the effect of R+6  gains over the months since the Russian intervention.  Did someone blow a "dog whistle" somewhere?  the possibility of pro-active collusion between IS and the rebels of all types seems excluded by the fact that IS and the others are fighting each other everywhere they are in contact, but, "is a puzzlement."
  • And then, there is the matter of the devastation wrought upon vegetable markets in a couple of rebel held villages in NW Idlib Governorate.  This occurred in remarkable coincidence with the "opposition" abandonment of the Geneva talks over the "issue" of Russian and Iranian unwillingness to abandon Assad. The Ghouta sarin saga comes to mind and one can only ask "Cui Bono?"  Surely it is not R+6.  This event should be examined closely.  What is the evidence for actual air attacks?  So far all the news stories about this is from opposition sources.
All of this is ample "food for thought."  SST will welcome the contributions of guest authors (posts and/or comments) and those of all other committeemen (comments) to the examination of these subjects.  pl



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42 Responses to Syria War Digest – 20 April 2016

  1. Peter says:

    Deir Ezzor is so vital to the Syrian Government because it’s their only hope for maintaining a presence in eastern Syria. I personally think this is so important because the Kurds are moving in from the north, and I think they plan on keeping most of the territory they hold with some sort of partition. Assad probably fears the possibility of losing Deir Ezzor and how that would ruin the chances of keeping Syria unified. And then there’s the oil fields in the surrounding areas like the Thayyem facilities.
    Lastly, I think clearing the road to Deir Ezzor is a more achievable goal at this stage than liberating Aleppo. With all of the talk about an Aleppo offensive recently I think the R+6 may have determined that it would be too costly right now.

  2. NotTimothyGeithner says:

    About your sixth point, is it possible the fighting is just busy work by local commanders spiraling out of control? The rebel fighters were supposed to be establishing a state or moving on to the next conflict depending depending on their particular agendas.

  3. Vince says:

    I have no staff experience of war but, now in my 70’s, over the last ten years or so I’ve taken a keen interest in military history, especially WW1 and WW2. I guess that means (unlike many commentators on Patrick’s blog) that I could be called an armchair general, so be it…
    Anyway, I’ve just started reading Alan Clark’s 1964 publication Barbarossa – The Russian German Conflict 1941-1945. Inevitably, he jumps in to the controversy around the German’s decision to postpone the march on Moscow.
    I won’t go into the ins and outs of that particular topic but I was struck by the similarities between what the Colonel summarises in his post and what took place all those years ago on the Eastern Front.
    Of course, the scales of formations and distances cannot be compared but the Germans, it seems to me, simply did not have the resources to (1) Obliterate Leningrad using Army Group North (2) March on Moscow and encircle it using Army Group Centre and (3) Destroy mass Russian formations in Ukraine using Army Group Centre.
    The Germans were partially successful in (1) wildly successful in (3) but failed completely in (2). It seems that they simply took too much on and, as a consequence, were compelled to switch forces from Army Group Centre to accomplish (1) and (3) thereby delaying (2).
    It seems to me that the R+6 forces (in particular, ground forces) cannot fulfill (A) the liberation of Deir-Azor/Raqqa and (B) complete the encirclement of Aleppo and (C) flush out the opposition in the Idlib and (D) close the Syrian/Turkish border all at once. They don’t have the resources.
    They are in the same bind as the Germans in July/August of 1941. In that last case, taking too much on and key decisions by Hitler and his commanders lost them (2) above. What we will not know until it has all been played out is what key decisions (rightly or wrongly) are being made by R+6 commanders: they seem to have a priority list but are they going to stick to it or will they, as the Germans did in 1941, try to do too much?
    Having said that, I do believe that the R+6 will ultimately be defeated and that IS and the rest will eventually be ‘toast’ as the Americans say. It’s down to the quality of the decision making by R+6 whether victory will be delayed at much greater cost due to trying to do too much with too few resources.

  4. Serge says:

    Leith Fadel was just reporting two days ago that the “Palmyra-Deir Ezzor offensive” was officially cancelled after the redeployment of Tiger Forces/other troops to the Ghab/Idlib area.
    I am confused as to whether Suhail al Hassan was included with these troops, and as to whether his move back to Palmyra reflects a 3 day flip flopping?
    Concerning the statement regarding IS-rebel cooperation in the face of their infighting, it is important to note that last week’s fighting near the Turkish border involved battles between IS and groups not under the direct command of Al Qaeda(nusra). Simultaneous to the northern aleppo action seen last week was ISIS again probing on the Khanasser plain, with apparent coordinated attacks by Al Qaeda rebels on the Western front of khannasser as a distraction. So rather than the possibility of pro active collusion between ISIS and rebels of all type, it is pro active collusion between ISIS and rebels of some type. IMO given the position of Deir Ezzor I believe that its loss would be seen as disastrous for not only the Syrians, but the US as well given the city’s position on IS artery. The last time that the city/airbase was seriously threatened(to my memory) as opposed to ISIS probing and advancing piecemeal in raids only to be quickly driven back was in the battles of December 2014, at which point the USA laid down a great number of airstrikes on ISIS positions surrounding the city and reinforcements coming from Iraq. Notable as one of the few instances of USA intervening directly in a one-on-one battle between the Syrians and IS. Regarding the priority of Aleppo v Deir Ezzor, I think there are many behind-the-scenes political goings on regarding this, and it also involves the move on Manbij.

  5. Are there significant numbers of citizens of the KSA fighting on any side in Syria? Iran?
    Any open source analysis of POW treatment by any of the forces fighting in Syria?

  6. b says:

    “Deir-al-Zor is in desperate straits”
    I somewhat doubt this.
    As I warned in my latest Syria piece:
    There will soon be reports about local retreats of the Syrian army from this or that town or hill. Do not give them too much weight. Since the Russian intervention last year the Syrian troops have orders to retreat when under hard pressure. This to preserve manpower. As soon has the enemy occupies a position the artillery and air force will take care of them. Then, when the enemy attack has been blunted, the Syrian army and their allies on the ground will reoccupy the position and if possible launch counterattacks.
    The Al-Sina district of Deir Ezzor which IS had captured yesterday is now back in the hands of Syrian army
    Also the last information I have is that troops from Palmyra were actually moved to the west to counter the current offensive of the “rebels”. The march to Deir Ezzor is, for now, called off. My hunch is that this was the purpose of the “rebels” breaking the ceasefire. The U.S., Saudis and Kurds do not want the Syrian Army to take Deir Ezzor and Raqqa and to defeat IS. It would make the Syrian government “too legitimate”.
    An Aleppo city attack on the rebel held parts would not make military sense. Lots of casualties would result from it and the enemy first has to be weakened elsewhere and further cut off from resupplies before it makes sense to really move in the hard way. Unfortunately there are daily casualties (not reported in the WENA press) in the government held parts of Aleppo due to indiscriminate artillery fire from the “rebel” side.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Off-topic but in light of your reaction to President Obama’s reception in Cuba I thought you might be interested: Saudis snub Obama in Riyadh

  8. Kooshy says:

    FYI, after the Cuban reception, if you havent seen this news today.
    “When Obama touched down in Riyadh shortly after 1 p.m. local time, there were no kisses with the kingdom’s ruler as President George W. Bush once exchanged. The Saudi government dispatched the governor of Riyadh rather than a senior-level royal to shake Obama’s hand, a departure from the scene at the airport earlier in the day when King Salman was shown on state television greeting the leaders of other Gulf nations on the tarmac.”

  9. turcopolier says:

    He has a talent for inappropriate humility. pl

  10. turcopolier says:

    A number of KSA people have been killed fighting for various rebel groups or ISA. Iran has actual troop units engaged in Syria on the R+6 side. IMO there have been any number of combatant prisoners killed by all and sundry. pl

  11. turcopolier says:

    “they seem to have a priority list but are they going to stick to it or will they, as the Germans did in 1941, try to do too much? Having said that, I do believe that the R+6 will ultimately be defeated and that IS and the rest will eventually be ‘toast’ as the Americans say.” This seems internally inconsistent. Missing word? pl

  12. turcopolier says:

    In the long ago I would have assembled in my conference room such greats as Linda Lau, Bill Porter, Rick Francona, Jeff White After posing the question it was my habit to listen and then form an opinion. I suppose that is what I am doing as a private citizen. I will not always agree with you but I hope that does not offend you. pl

  13. Serge says:

    KSA is supposedly the second largest contributor of foreign fighters to ISIS, way behind the Tunisians which hold the inauspicious first place. Iranians have a great number of IRGC as well as Hazara/Iraqi militias fighting near Aleppo in particular but all around Syria. Regarding the subject of Gulfie foreign fighters, a point of great interest in my view has been the extremely small number of UAE/Qatari/Kuwaiti fighters going over to the dark side even given the wide gulf in population differences when you compare to other Arab countries, with not only KSA and Europe dwarfing the contributions but countries such as Japan(!!!) having more confirmed fighters going to ISIS than these countries.

  14. Fred says:

    “The Saudi government dispatched the governor of Riyadh rather than a senior-level royal to shake Obama’s hand,…”
    Sadly our President seems to prefer having our Republic insulted.

  15. Matthew says:

    A wonderful turn of phrase.

  16. Vince says:

    Apologies – should have checked more carefully, should read: “they seem to have a priority list but are they going to stick to it or will they, as the Germans did in 1941, try to do too much? Having said that, I do believe that the R+6 will ultimately be successful and that IS and the rest will eventually be ‘toast’ as the Americans say.”

  17. cynic says:

    The Syrians seem to be doing quite nicely in Deir elzor now. It seems to have been a feigned retreat which led a lot of terrorists to their death in a trap.
    There’s a nice cartoon photograph at the end showing the new global policeman doing something useful.
    One of the comments claims that Putin has ordered Russian troops to seal the border between Syria and Turkey.

  18. pmr9 says:

    From the videos I’ve looked at, there is evidence of at least one explosion causing casualties in the Maarat al-Numan market on 19 April, but no evidence for an air attack beyond the word of selected “witnesses” including the notorious White Helmets who work closely with the Nusra Front in Idlib and have helped to propagate previous false-flag massacre stories including the alleged chlorine attack in Sarmin on 16 March 2015 (see my comment on SST last year).
    There are several precedents for false-flag market attacks in opposition-held areas ( One of these is the alleged market attack in Ariha, Idlib on 3 August 2015, where an uploaded photo shows obviously weathered jet wreckage next to some melons. The clearest evidence is for the Douma market attack on 16 August 2015, where the estimated timing (from shadows and geolocation) of a photo of wrapped bodies of about 40 men and older boys in a nearby schoolyard shows that the victims were dead before the attack, and the four impact sites in the market area form an arc consistent with rocket fire from a spot 800 metres to the south.
    One possible motive for an attack on civilians in Maarat al-Numan on 19 April that (as the WP reports) is mentioned in the WP article. Apparently the local residents had been protesting against the “increasingly heavy-handed” Al-Nusra Front.

  19. Mark Pyruz says:

    Two OF-1 from elite NEZAJA 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade (non-IRGC), reported 20APR16 by Iranian media source as KIA while engaged in ops at southern Aleppo.

  20. LeaNder says:

    I was puzzled, too. Contradiction or exactly meant this way:
    “Having said that, I do believe that the R+6 will ultimately be defeated and that IS and the rest will eventually be ‘toast’ as the Americans say. It’s down to the quality of the decision making by R+6 whether victory will be delayed at much greater cost due to trying to do too much with too few resources.”
    “too few resources” only serve to leave ‘killing fields’* behind: “R+6 defeated”, “Isis and the rest” toast. R+6 delays only make matters worse?
    * If I may substitute the Nazis with a different image.
    Or alternatively, the image of the mad leader pushing his servants ahead against all reason?

  21. different clue says:

    If the R + 6 are ultimately defeated and the IS and the rest will eventually be toast; then who or what will ultimately win, and what is it that they will have won?

  22. BraveNewWorld says:

    The true gem on that page is the Youtube link. The only problem with the video is the guy in it is to restrained.

  23. cynic,
    That ambush operation in Deir ez-Zor as described by Syrian Perspective was very sophisticated. That big bull of a Druze commander at Deir ez-Zor is one crafty SOB. I read of a similar use of intelligence to blunt another rebel offensive south of Aleppo earlier in the week. Those kinds of intelligence-based operations re signs of a top notch military force. In a few years, I hope we will be studying these operations in our command & staff schools.

  24. bth says:

    It is interesting to see how artillery in combination with UAVs is evidently being used more and more. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about trends like this might comment. A decade ago it seemed that artillery was largely ignored in Iraq and now artillery seemingly in combination with drones seems is setting battle lines in Ukraine (both Russians, rebels and Ukrainians), in Iraq with US marines south of Mosul, in Syria clearly with the Russians and with the Turks shooting across the Syrian border which sets the limits of Kurdish advances and probably a northern most limit on the Syrian governments advances.

  25. Mark Pyruz says:

    Somewhat related:
    ISIL video uploaded 19APR16 depicting 9M133 “Kornet” ATGM hit on Turkish Land Forces M-60T (M60A1 modernized along Sabra Mk.II specs via Israel Military Industries). Location: west of Mosul.

  26. Chris Chuba says:

    Col. your wall street journal reference was quite interesting. I am posting it as a google search result because I don’t think that you need a subscription to read it if you go in that way, realclearpolitics uses that trick and it seems to work.
    In any case, the wsj article is extremely irritating.
    1. They put the full blame on Assad for the failure of the ceasefire and make absolutely no reference to the FSA violations. We are not talking about a few violations like artillery or mortar fire, we are talking about full scale offensive attacks in Latakia and Aleppo, even the Dailybeast acknowledged this and they hate Assad. The WSJ completely ignored this.
    2. The tone of the article made it sound like the U.S. was the adult in the room who brokered and is trying to keep the ceasefire against a somewhat shady partner, the Russians. That is a gagfest of an assertion. The Russians have been asking the U.S. to identify and separate the FSA rebels in Aleppo so they could stay out of the way of the SAA. The Russians are serious about the Geneva peace plan, the Assad must go fixation is not an essential component as it is portrayed in the article. Finally the U.S. promise to deliver brand new shiny weapons ‘if’ the peace plan fails strongly encourages the rebels to back out.
    IMO it is the U.S. who is less serious about the cease fire and who has been less active in the enforcement of it.

  27. turcopolier says:

    I am not going to post instructions as to how to bypass the WSJ pay wall. pl

  28. Barish says:

    Here’s a worrying development to add to the mix:
    “Ceasefire falls apart as Kurdish, government forces clash in Qamishli
    By Leith Fadel – 21/04/2016
    The Syrian government and PYD (Kurdish regime) negotiated a truce on Wednesday night to cease the hostilities taking place inside of Qamishli.
    However, the truce only lasted a mere three hours before the Asayish (Kurdish police) and National Defense Forces (NDF) clashed again near the Qamishli Security Box.
    As a result of these firefights, the Asayish and NDF have accumulated a dozen casualties each, making this one of the bloodiest clashes to take place inside of Qamishli.
    In addition to the fighting taking place between the NDF and Asayish, the latter has also engaged in a series of clashes with the Assyrian paramilitary forces (Sootooro and Hamiyah Al-Jazeerah).
    This entire debacle began when a group of Asayish officers refused to stop at an NDF checkpoint; this prompted the latter to open-fire on the vehicle.
    Firefights are still ongoing tonight, despite repeated attempts by both the PYD and Syrian government to intervene and halt the fighting.”
    In addition to that going on, ISIL claim to have carried out a bombing in the selfsame city:
    Local fancies of fully taking the city aside – it is noted that PYD/YPG do not have an interest in this turf war -, I can’t see anyone truly benefiting from this other than ISIL itself, as shown, or Turkish MiT. How (un)likely would the latter’s involvement in events in Qamishli be?

  29. cynic says:

    He also has a talent for misdirected interference and insulting arrogance.

  30. Seamus says:

    Slightly off topic but not really;
    There’s an #InsultErdogan hashtag making the rounds on Twitter. Far be it from me to encourage people to join in the pillorying of a fascist autocrat.

  31. Matthew says:

    The “bust out” continues. See
    When the Gulfies are primarily “nervous” because they fear their own people, you know this story will end badly.

  32. cynic says:

    There’s a nice wordplay in one of the comments here:
    It notes that Obama bowed to the waste.

  33. different clue says:

    The problem is that Obama is only continuing the Cheney/bush Administration policy on Saudi Arabia. No hope for change from Obama on that score. And no hope for change from Clinton either, if she gets elected.

  34. Mark Logan says:

    re: Simultaneous offensives puzzle.
    Another WAG: As resources get tight the people who fight will get the most, perhaps a parallel condition within the two organizations? They are enemies but they share a few patrons.

  35. robt willmann says:

    The news above that Suhail al Hassan is to help R+6 make a move from Tadmur (Palmyra) to Dayr az Zawr (or Deir al Zor, or however it is spelled), is good news and should be at the top of the list. The Syria-Iraq border is to the southeast of Palmyra. Pushing northeast to clear Dayr az Zawr and then east to the Iraq border will then allow R+6 to take back the area south and southeast of Dayr az Zawr which has oil fields and pipelines and oil and gas infrastructure, as well as the Euphrates River all the way to Iraq. Then Syria, Russia, Iran, et. al. can control more than half of the Syrian-Iraq border starting at Jordan. When that is accomplished, they can pick and choose from what places to push north to take back the rest of the country.
    Aleppo is “contained”, so to speak. The large expanses of the eastern part of Syria are the important thing for R+6 to get, along with the oil and gas infrastructure there.

  36. BraveNewWorld says:

    I am usually loath to post a link to any thing over at the National Interest but this article was written by a Military history prof at West Point and is right up the ally of many here. It starts out a little slogan heavy but it definitely builds. I

  37. Matthew says:

    MP: Can anyone explain this? The Iranians fight in the open; the Gulfies slither around in secrecy. See

  38. FkDahl says:

    New book by Hersh, “The Killing of Osama bin Laden”
    “We had a ship, it was called the Cape Maid, it was parked out in the Med. The Syrians would let us destroy this stuff [the chemical weapons]… there was 1,308 tons that was shipped to the port…and we had, guess what, a forensic unit out there. Wouldn’t we like to really prove—here we have all his sarin and we had sarin from what happened in Ghouta, the UN had a team there and got samples—guess what?
    It didn’t match. But we didn’t hear that. I now know it, I’m going to write a lot about it.
    Guess what else we know from the forensic analysis we have (we had all the missiles in their arsenal). Nothing in their arsenal had anything close to what was on the ground in Ghouta.”

  39. Akira says:

    I nominate that Wapo article for Worst Headline of the War:
    “Pro-government warplanes bomb a rebel town that hates al-Qaeda, killing scores”

  40. Phil Cattar says:

    A quick answer off the top of my head without any deep analysis is that the men of these countries are soft physically and not particularly radicalized.They live a soft life and not really motivated to go to war in Syria.Qatar has the highest income per capita in the world………………….Most of the difficult work in these countries,if not most of the work period,is done by foreigners……..They will pay someone else to fight or be the weapons supplier.

  41. Chris Chuba says:

    It took the Russians about 3 weeks to deactivate almost 3,000 mines in Palmyra.
    Over the same period, over a 100 Iraqi’s have been killed or wounded returning to Ramadi while a U.S. company was contracted to remove mines there. The original number of mines was estimated in the hundreds but I did not find any stats given on the number of mines that they actually did remove during that time period.
    Okay, I get that Ramadi is a city buried in rubble while Palmyra is just a large town but I am having some doubts about our use of private contractors for military operations. I suppose that a better test for the efficiency of the Russian operators will be to see how effective they are when they have to deal with the aftermath of a city such as the ISIS held portion of Deir Ezzor, Ramadi, or Aleppo. It just seems like we don’t get anything close to the same value for the expense that we invest in these operations. Oddly enough there was even less transparency.

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