Operation Idlib Dawn Resumes – TTG

27dec_IdlibFront lines prior to the start of the offensive

During the last few weeks, the SAA redeployed its forces to the eastern side of the Idlib front. This included moving the 4th Armored Division from Jish al Shigour to Aleppo. In addition to the 4th Division, the SAA order of battle along this front includes three divisions of the 3rd and 4th Corps, 4 brigades of the 5th Corps, the Republican Guard 30th Division along with the 25th Special forces Division and Liwa al Quds.  

The northern sector of this front, west of Aleppo was the most difficult area to make an advance due to the urban density of the western suburbs and strong jihadi defenses. The jihadis brought reinforcements into this area during the last weeks, most of them with experience in urban combat. This area is far more critical to the jihadis’ and Turkey’s desire to maintain a presence in the Aleppo-Idlib region. This is where the jihadis will defend. To the south, especially in the Maarat al Numan area, the jihadis probably see the will of Allah in eventually being driven out just as they were from Khan Sheikhun. 

The offensive operation began on 24 January and unfolded as expected. SouthFront did a good writeup of the actions of the weekend along with a nice little video. I recommend you review that article and video, along with the maps I’ve included, for a good synopsis. 


26jan_numanSAA gains on 26 January
27jan_numanSAA gains on 27 January

I watched as various tweeters and rumor mills reported the actions during the weekend. I am not surprised as the SAA’s progress. I gather Erdogan is not surprised either. At the same time he was sending a couple thousand of his jihadis to Libya, he was crying like a rat eating onions to Putin begging for a ceasefire in Idlib. Russian and Syrian aerospace forces have been pounding the living daylights out of the jihadis for weeks, slowing only during occasional bouts of bad weather. I noticed a video of jihadis all in helmets and body armor. I’m sure this is in response to the continuous R+6 air and artillery bombardment. 

I think the overall plan for this offensive was brilliant. The SAA massed enough forces along the entire front to prevent the jihadis from launching a successful counterattack to relieve pressure on Maarat al Numan or the western outskirts of Aleppo. This also prevented the jihadis from concentrating their forces as either of these objectives. 

Conservation of forces seems to be the order of the day for both sides. The jihadis are choosing to withdraw under heavy air and rocket fire (SAA BM-21 Grad) rather than DIP (die in place). As the jihadis withdraw, the SAA is not rushing in immediately. They have learned that the jihadis often launch strong counterattacks before the SAA can consolidate on the objective. I disagree with SouthFront about the SAA storming Maarat al Numan. I believe they are trying to force them to vacate the city on their own. The Syrian Army Air Force has already destroyed several jihadi convoys as they attempted to flee to the north on the M5 and to the west. The SAA also discovered and destroyed a large tunnel from Maarat al Numan to the Idlib countryside. Rather than storming the city or fully surrounding it, I believe the 25th Special Forces Division (formerly known as the Tiger Force) will advance north along the M5 towards Saraqib. This will support the SAA units attacking from the east. 

Judging by the videos, this still appears to be a platoon leader’s war. Assaults are undertaken by groups of 20 to 30 infantryman supported by a tank and a couple of BMPs. Perhaps that’s why consolidation on the objective remains such a fragile time for the SAA. This also is a caveat about the SAA order of battle. All those divisions and brigades are nowhere near the size of Western units. If those regiments and brigades are battalion size, I’d be surprised. SAA tanks are often used as sniper platforms. I have seen no videos of mass armor assaults even though this seems to be excellent tank country. The reason for this may be that this is also excellent country for ATGMs. This emphasis on conservation of forces developed during the darkest days of the Syrian war before the Russians were persuaded to intervene by Qasem Soleimani. The SAA could not afford to squander the few forces it had left. It's a healthy approach for any military.

I’m confident that this offensive will end with the entire M5 under the SAA’s control at the very least. The question is what’s next? Will the SAA head for the city of Idlib and approach Jisr al Shigour from the west or will they concentrate on widening control around Aleppo. All in good time, my friends, all in good time.


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17 Responses to Operation Idlib Dawn Resumes – TTG

  1. johnf says:

    Much appreciated.

  2. plantman says:

    I wonder if Erdogan made any concessions to Putin for Putin’s withdrawal of mercenaries (Wagner Group) in Libya??
    I suspect he might have done so.
    Also, I wonder if any Iranian troops are involved in the offensive in Idlib??
    Thank you for the update

    Maarat al Numan has fallen without a fight. The SAA left one road out open for the last jihadis to high tail it out of town which they did.
    A Turkish Army convoy of 30 vehicles including q dozen APCs entered Syria last night on the Azan-Afrin road. They appear to be establishing another “observation point” just south of Saraqib. I doubt the 25th Special Forces Division will be intimidated as they head north on the M5, although some Russian MPs will probably now accompany the advancing forces to keep the peace.
    Progress is being made on the Aleppo front as well. The 30th Republican Guards Division is now on the outskirts of Khan Touman. Capture of that town will leave the path open to cross the M5. From there the 30th and the 4th Armored Division will be hitting the jihadis west of Aleppo from two sides.

  4. JohninMK says:

    South Front is now reporting that Maarat al Numan has now fallen.

  5. Serge says:

    These jokers signed their final death warrant when they cooperated with their enemies at Astana in early 2017 , giving SAA+allies a free hand to wipe out ISIS from the outskirts of Palmyra to the Euphrates over that following year without any distractions. Maybe soon Jowlani and his cohorts will rue the day that they stabbed ISIS in the back in 2013. But I’m sure their gulfie masters will airlift them out before that day comes. Not so for the rank and file.

  6. Yeah, Right says:

    With regard to the SAA order of battle, is their any indication that they are maintaining way-undersized formations for the future i.e. once this war is over and all the Syrian refugees return then those “divisions” will be beefed up to size with new recruits in anticipation of much bigger wars-to-come?
    Otherwise I fail to see the point of the Syrians pretending that their battalion-sized formations are “regiments” or “brigades”.

  7. Yeah Right,
    I’m sure the SAA units are understrength. That’s to be expected. In the 70s many of our Army units were understrength. My rifle platoon never had more than 25 men. The TO&E called for 44. The rifle companies were about 100 strong. Another factor is that the SAA is modeled on the Russian structure where units are characteristically smaller than in the US.

  8. English Outsider says:

    TTG – thank you very much for that summary. Might I enquire – is there any information on the Uighur families in Jisr al Shughour? Did they get out?

  9. English Outsider,
    As far as I know, there are still several thousand Uighurs around Jisr al Shughour. TIP is primarily Uighour and they have stubbornly blocked the 4th Armored Division’s advances there for months. Besides where would they go? Turkey doesn’t want them. Nor does China. I guess Erdogan could send them to Libya, but he needs TIP’s tenacity to hold Jisr al Shighour.

  10. Leith says:

    Erdogan now seems more focused on Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain as well as his other occupied areas in Syria’s north. That plus Libya. Almost seems like he has made a deal and sold out his friends in Idlib, you think?
    Although it will be interesting to see Erdogan’s reactions once the SAA gets closer to Jisr al-Shigur and his ethnic pan-Turkic allies such as the Turkistan brigade or TIP, the Tatar/Bashkiri Junud al-Makhdi, and Uzbeki jihadis.

  11. Yeah, Right says:

    TTG, I assume the key is to ensure that you keep a cadre of experienced sergeants. Do that and it’s possible to beef up under-strength units when the opportunity (and the need, obviously) arises.
    The SAA has been put through the meatgrinder for years. The surviving non-coms must be as tough as nails by now.
    Many thanks for the article, it is very informative.

  12. turcopolier says:

    Yeah Right
    Your assumption is probably wrong. Most Arab armies, like the IDF, have no tradition of strong NCO cadres. The officers are everything.

  13. Yeah Right,
    It’s not NCOs in particular. The need is for leaders at all levels from squad to platoon to company and beyond be they NCOs, officers or whatever. It’s my opinion that leadership at these lower levels is critical to battle field success. If just one of these levels is missing, you’re screwed. As Colonel Lang said, a strong NCO corps is not universal.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Yes. The IDF is descended in it initial cadres from the tsar’s army and the rest of them from the Ottoman army. In none of those was a strong professional NCO corps a feature. The later British influence did not affect the bed rock cultures in these armies. As you say, it is leadership that counts, no matter what the rank.

  15. Poul says:

    The Islamists have abandoned Maarat Al-Numan.
    The Syrian Army’s campaign has a 18th century-feel to it.
    Small limited offensives followed by entrenchment and preparation for the next limited attack.
    A smart strategy which allows the use of your best troops in a small area with plenty of support.

  16. Fan says:

    i found this website nearly a decade ago while looking for reasobale commentary on what was happening in syria.
    i certianly was not disappointed.
    just wanted to thank you and all your contributers TTG and P. Armstrong in particular for over a decade of serving the people of your country by providing us quality level headed assessments of the world we live in.

  17. Leith says:

    Seems like Erdogan wants to launch an military operation into Idlib in order to stop the advances of the SAA. He said today:
    “We will not allow the regime’s cruelty towards its own people, with attacks and causing bloodshed.
    “Turkey with complete sincerity wants Syria’s stability and security, and to this end, we will not shy away from doing whatever is necessary, including using military force.”

    Will he do it? Or is he just blowing smoke? I had thought he was already overextended, but that seems to be his mercenaries and not the TKK itself.

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