SYRIA ROUND-UP: The “Crazies in the Basement” vs the Reality on the Ground

By Patrick BAHZAD

Capture - CopyThe "crazies in the basement" is an expression that was coined originally by some unknown member of George W's administration. It used to designate the small clique of Neo-Cons who had found their way into Bush junior's team of advisors, before they rose to dubious fame after the 9/11 attacks. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, at the time Colin Powell's chief of staff, described their status enhancement from "lunatic fringe" to top executives in the White House with his Southern sense of humour, adding that they had become almost overnight what was henceforth called the Cheney "Gestapo". And what happened over the weekend in the Middle-East – and in D.C. – certainly looked like a distant but distinct reminder of that period in the early 2000s when "crazies" coming right out of a dark basement took over the policy agenda on questions that would require adult supervision.

What had caused this wave of schyzophrenic hysteria taking over large portions of the mainstream media, think tanks, political analysts and pseudo-military experts ? To be honest, if you want to get to the bottom of it, you would have to dig real deep into the pool of strategic mediocrity combined with PR-spin that has taken over most of the Western world since the start of the Syrian civil war (and actually way before).

The ISSG communique

Let's try and keep things simple though. It all started on Friday when the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) announced that an agreement had been reached regarding the Syrian conflict, providing for key measures to be implemented as far as humanitarian aid, cessation of hostilities and political transition were concerned. Kerry and Lavrov had worked hard to achieve this result and all of a sudden, it looked like years of efforts and resources aimed at removing Assad had been wasted and were actually going down the drain.

The announcement of this "cessation of hostilities" agreement did not go down well with the sponsors of the Syrian rebels (and Salafi or Jihadi groups) which were committed to overthrow Assad at any cost. In particular, the ISSG communique specified that terrorist groups recognized as such by the UN were specifically excluded from any form of cease-fire. In other words, not only would ISIS continue to be targeted by the Western Coalition (CJTF "Inherent Resolve"), but so would the Nusra Front and smaller Jihadi groups present in North-Western Syria, as well as any "Joint Operations Room" in which these groups featured prominently.

Basically, it also meant that most of the groups fighting Assad in that area were still "fair game" to both the RuAF, the SAA and their allies. Factually, it was a recognition that there is almost no "moderate" insurgency left in Syria, for reasons that can be debated of course, but in the end, there is no hiding from this fact, despite the massive PR-effort that the public in the Western world is being subjected to, day in, day out.

Following the ISSG statement, the sponsors of the armed insurrection – whether they were in Ryiadh, Ankara, Washington or Paris – panicked and went into over-drive. If the road map that was the "cessation of hostilities" agreement was implemented, even in parts, chances were that the regime change strategy would face total failure and the proxy rebels in Syria would contemplate assured destruction at the hands of the Russian lead military campaign on the ground.

Ryiadh and Ankara go AWOL

Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the main players having a bone to pick with Assad, had to come up with something. Maybe, there was also some kind of "good cop, back cop" routine agreed with the State Department, Kerry playing it nice, but mentioning "en passant" that a contingency plan was at the ready, if negotiations failed. Be that as it may, the reality is that Ryiadh and Ankara came up with a plan that can best be described as crackpot junk, if it wasn't backed up by US military power.

For years, both these countries had refused to lift even a finger to confront ISIS on the ground and they were now considering a large scale ground offensive supposedly aimed at getting all the way to Raqqa and striking a decisive blow against Baghdadi's "Caliphate". The sabre-rattling operation went ahead at full speed, with Ryiadh stating its willingness to launch the Royal Saudi Army into the battle and announcing the transfer of a large fighter fleet to Incirlik airbase. As for the Turks, they insisted on the 70 000 men of their 2nd Army being positioned and ready to move into Syria and defeat the ISIS throat-cutters in their Raqqa stronghold. That they would incidentally march through Kurdish (YPG) held territory, disrupting any chance at Kurdish junction with their Afrin canton in the West, was probably to be considered an acceptable "collateral damage" to the benefits of taking back Raqqa.

There is a lot to be said about the lunacy at work in the planning of the alleged operation. A plan that must truly be considered the work of a mad professor, or a bunch of crazies in a basement somewhere. Now, recent history has shown that crazies can be dangerous and can hijack the foreign policy of a superpower, so let's not dismiss the risk involved here. However, the level of amateurishness and military incompetence that has been the trademark of Saudi ground forces for years, combined with the serious domestic problems Ankara was certain to face if it ventured into Syria, made the mere prospect of a ground operation much less likely than the seemingly determined statements of these countries' politicians led to believe.

And of course, there would also be aspects linked to the breach of international law, invasion of a sovereign country under no valid UN resolution, or the risk of confrontation and escalation with the SAA or – worse – Russian forces. To be honest, while hysteria and rumours of WWIII were taking over in the media and among Beltway experts, there was no way the Saudis in particular had the means or the resources to launch a large scale operation in Syria. Their forces have been bogged down in a bloody guerilla war in Yemen for almost a year now, and there is no end in sight to the fighting.

Saudi Crackpot junk

To imagine that Ryiadh could organise something vaguely resembling operation "Desert Storm" over longer distances, basically cutting through Jordanian and/or Iraqi desert in the South, stretching their logistics trail for hundreds and hundreds of miles, and/or operate from Northern Turkey, where air bases are closer and enemies are more numerous, was bordering on a sense of delusion far worse than the imperial hubris occasionally displayed in the US.

It became quickly apparent that the Saudi plan was a plan in name only. Chest thumping self-hypnosis maybe. Whoever has seen the Saudi army in action, knows that operating at the level of professionalism and military skill required for a ground invasion of Raqqa is far beyond anything they can master. Ryadh's neighbors must have been all too aware of these limitations, for it didn't take long until Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt declined the invitation to participate.

Without US leadership, without a UN resolution and without cooperation with Russia, none of these countries wanted anything to do with the Saudi and Turkish lunacy. And so the hawkish Saudis gradually had to tone down their big statements, finally coming to their senses: they would not be able to trick either regional actors or the all mighty USA into an ill-thought, ill-conceived and most probably ill-prepared operation in Syria.

The large air force detachment to be transferred to Incirlik air base has now been reduced to 4 jets, due to arrive in late February. The Juggernaut Saudi army that was to push all the way to Raqqa has now been trimmed down to SOF groups, under the control of "Operation Inherent Resolve". Reason seems to have prevailed for now, but for a couple of days, things looked like a (very) bad Tom Clancy novel was being implemented in the real world.

The race for Raqqa

Regardless of what will go down in history as a mere sidenote of the Syrian civil war, and one more piece of evidence of the Saudis' cognitive dissonance with the real world, there is no doubt that a race has started for who will arrive in Raqqa first. The US lead Western coalition and their GCC allies ? Or Assad's SAA, together with its foreign allies ? Medium to long term, last weekend's marginally funny episode has not changed this equation, the implications of which are huge for the future of Syria and the Middle-East in general.

We will get back into this important aspect in another piece. Suffice to say, that whoever reaches Raqqa first and manages to take over formerly ISIS held territory in Eastern Syria will hugely strengthen his position with regard to any future negotiation for a final settlement of the war. All the talk about "safe zones" or "no fly zones" in Northern Syria, under the pretence of creating a humanitarian corridor interdicted to any of the belligerents, is ancillary to this larger issue. Controlling the territory, and even more so its population, is the name of this game.

The final chapter in that game has not been written yet and it remains to be seen which of the two coalitions mentioned above will finally get the upper hand. On paper and on the ground, things look quite good for the R+6 at the moment. The often dispelled notion that the Russian involvement in the war might prove decisive is actually materialising on the ground and gaining momentum with each passing day.

Short SITREP of events on the ground

Aleppo is where all is going to be decided, just as SST has been saying all along. Most of the other fronts feature SAA advances and progress as well, whether in the South (Daraa) or North-West (Lattakia). In Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor, the SAA is holding its ground against ISIS. Once the dust of the "mother of all battles" that is taking shape in the Aleppo-Idlib area will have settled, and the various rebel groups there will have been destroyed or pushed back into Turkey, there is no doubt operations in the Eastern Syrian desert will gather more pace as well. For the time being, holding back ISIS is more than enough.

One area in the East is of particular interest though, as shown in a recent piece by TTG. The SAA advance towards Tabqa, just a few miles West of Raqqa, has large scale strategic implications in the fight against ISIS. Were the R+6 to get all the way to Tabqa air base, thereby cutting off ISIS' main and only LOC to and from its territory West of the Euphrates, a pocket might be created that could potentially close onto all of the Caliphate's troops and resources in that area. The main supply line of the Islamic State would be cut off, thereby confronting al-Baghdadi's strategists with a huge military, political and administrative problem.

We are not there yet, but a window of opportunity has opened and if the R+6 is clever and shrewd enough, that window shall close with the take-over of Tabqa airbase and the adjacent lines of communication with Raqqa. The signal such a victory would send cannot be understated, for it would probably equal the beginning of the end for ISIS in Syria. Symbolically, also, the Caliphate would be cut off from one of its most cherished places: the small city of Dabiq, home to the "End of days" prophecy that features prominently in ISIS' online magazine.

Azaz pocket closing down

But more short-term, there are two pockets already shaping up North and West of Aleppo. This is where the regime is intent on striking a devastating blow against what is left of the various rebel factions, at this point in time Salafi and Jihadi groups, most of which are "moderates" in name only. After last week's junction with the besieged areas of Nubl and Zahra, R+6 operations have gathered momentum and what was initially a move aimed at cutting another rebel line of communication and supply, has now turned into the encirclement and reduction of the "Azaz pocket", named after the most Northern town in the area, located just south of the border post of Bab al-Salameh.

It is a significant but not unexpected development that R+6 forces are cooperating closely with the Kurdish YPG militias in this area, as well as a few SDF units (mostly former FSA groups that have rallied R+6 forces). The action of the Kurdish YPG in particular is the main reason why Ankara has been threatening to take military action: the Turks see any further territorial gains made by the Kurds as a 'casus belli', given this might destablize their whole Southern flank, at a time Ankara is engaged in a ferocious domestic fight against Kurdish political dissent.

For all the chest thumping and threats coming out of Turkey, it is unlikely Erdogan will be so foolish as to engage in a ground operation on Syrian territory. Most probably, he will continue supporting proxy militias, despite the huge setbacks they have suffered in recent months, and will rely on occasional artillery fire or maybe small SOF incursions to try and prevent Syrian Kurds from developing their powerbase. His chances of success however look rather slim at the moment, given that the YPG has already received political guarantees both from Damascus and Moscow regarding political autonomy and military assistance, in exchange for cooperation towards ending the war on Assad's terms.

The Final Battle

In that regard, the final blow will be dealt in the vast plains of Idlib province, where the R+6 hammer coming from Aleppo (in the East) will smash Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and FSA remnants against the anvil of Lattakia's mountains (in the West). Currently, the last rebel stronghold in that part of Syria, the city of Kinsibba, is being surrounded by SAA and NDF units. They have already taken the high ground around the city and should be able to storm it soon.

With Kinsibba falling into R+6 hands, the battle in the mountains will be basically over and the noose will tighten a little further around the rebel groups centred on the city of Idlib. Once R+6 will have finished their "clear and hold" operations, they will take up new offensive positions and try and close up what is left of the rebels' access to the Turkish border North of Idlib. Before the final onslaught, they will probably focus on taking the border area of Bab al-Hawa, West of Aleppo. They have various options to achieve this goal, and if the current operational pace is any indication, they should manage to do so in a not so distant future.

At that point, the "Idlib pocket" will close down on the rebels in the same way the Azaz corridor closed down on them last week. There will be nowhere to go, except back to rearbases in Turkey, assuming Ankara is willing to let in several thousand men in arms, or maybe into the Eastern desert, to link up with ISIS, hoping for a warm welcome which is in no way a foregone conclusion.

Strategic Relevance

What is interesting from a purely military point of view, is that Aleppo itself will not be subject to the scenes of urban combat and carnage that are being conjured up by spin doctors in the Gulf and in the West. Most of the city is already under government control. The large power plant East of the city, was retaken earlier today by the SAA's "Tiger Force", the spearhead of the "4th Assault Corps" that has been formed, trained and equiped by Russia since October of last year. Fighting and combat in Aleppo will die down as most of the rebels will follow the call to arms in Idlib province, and their splintered groups will not be able to offer more than sporadic fighting and terrorist attacks.

What we will be left with to contemplate is a campaign that will have gradually gained momentum, passing through an attritional phase with few tangible results (grinding down of the enemy), up to a point of strategic breakthrough, followed by an increase in operational tempo aimed at exploiting any weakness appearing in the adversary's posture or following through on any tactical opportunity.

From this point of view, the campaign in North-Western Syria is characterized by two features that might also prove decisive in the struggle against ISIS. On the one hand, the rebels' territorial continuity was targeted consistently, thereby breaking down the large territory they controlled into smaller and smaller areas, easier to clear and to hold. On the other hand, the logistics card proved to be the right one to play. Targeting supply lines through airstrikes and gradually cutting them off with ground troops was a winning tactic. Once again, these factors are evidence that the principles of war are timeless and that those who disregard them, preferring to indulge into the safety of their metrics and percentage war, do so at their own peril.


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48 Responses to SYRIA ROUND-UP: The “Crazies in the Basement” vs the Reality on the Ground

  1. Hood Canal Gardner says:

    Excellent read + thoughtful. Thanks..pretty much on target re the Turks. However, IMO the mindless “basement crew” will ‘engineer/shoehorn/EU-membership bribe’ sizable contingents of the regularTurkish army into Syria possibly (even) on a second front. Just a thought.

  2. Medicine Man says:

    Thank you for once again reading the tea leaves for us, Mr. Bahzad. You and your fellows on SST are an invaluable resource for us civilians who are trying to parse through all the misinformation that abounds.

  3. cynic says:

    Would it be better for the Syrians and Russians to complete the destruction of the terrorists in the west before turning their main attention to the Raqqa area, or the reverse?
    Considering the importance of preventing the Americans and their assorted riff-raff from taking control of an economically and politically important slice of Eastern Syria, which they would hope would enable them to continue the “Assad must Go!” mantra; would it not be better to turn attention to promptly winning sufficient in that area to preempt that possibility? Might tidying up in the west now risk losing the east?
    The ‘Green’ terrorists in the west seem to be on the ropes. Allowing some respite now will not prevent their ultimate defeat. If it will take the Americans, say a couple of months, to move sufficient forces into the area of Raqqa and re-badge ISIS as newly enlightened democratic rebels against the tyranny of Assad, could the Syrians win enough in that time to make the Americans reluctant to intervene, and then turn back to complete their victory around Idlib and Aleppo?

  4. turcopolier says:

    PB & TTG
    Great work. pl

  5. Except for moving the Kerry chess piece around, FP is about to be in the rear view mirror by the Obama Administration. Budget hearings and effort and the replacement for Scalia about all the energy the Administration can muster. Scarey IMO since the world never stops as to its crisis management.
    Thanks for another terrific post!

  6. Matthew says:

    Col: PB & TGG’s recent posts have been incredibly informative–and a great rebuke to the cocktail party reporting from the MSM. BTW, the “crazies in the basement” crowd is not limited to DC:
    Why would it be objectively bad for the USA if Assad remains in power? Bad for some R2P careerists, sure. But strategically bad for the USA?

  7. SmoothieX12 says:

    followed by an increase in operational tempo aimed at exploiting any weakness appearing in the adversary’s posture or following through on any opportunity of tactical gain.
    Yesterday’s appearance of TU-214R is, possibly the sign of things to come. It has massive recon capability, both air and ground, including ability to create real time picture of the underground. It also maps real time signals’ picture.

  8. Petrous says:

    Outstanding work. Very thorough.
    While we can always count on first class work and coverage here on SST, elsewhere laughable work is presented as analysis. Finding this article on National Interest , touching on the same subject was a shocker for its sheer lack of any basis in reality. The comments following the article make it abundantly clear that even the regular readers cant swallow what is being dished out there!

  9. Thirdeye says:

    Syrian helicopters have reportedly dropped leaflets demanding surrender over Jihadi-held districts of Aleppo.
    We’ll find out soon enough whether it really means something big is about to go down in Aleppo or if it’s a ruse to misdirect the enemy’s efforts. An impending move to create an Idlib-Aleppo pocket looks more likely with the fall of Kinsibba looking imminent. But if I had a dollar for every time I misprognosticated the SAA’s next move…..

  10. I don’t think they will, as already stated by the Turkish PM earlier today. Mind you, Erdogan might have other ideas in mind, but for the time being I’ll stick with my estimate 😉

  11. MM,
    Some of this “analysis” is just common sense, nothing to do with military experience alone. Don’t think it is a question of civilian vs military, more like “thinking” individual/citizen vs gullible MSM crowd (which doesn’t mean buying into conspiracy BS either, I may add) !

  12. Thirdeye says:

    IMO the neocons in the State Department saw an opportunity to install a “pro-western” government that would deny the Russian Navy use of its port at Latakia. It was of a piece with the attempt to deny the Russian Navy the use of Sebastopol with the pro-NATO coup in Ukraine.
    Israel has a parallel interest in isolating Hezbollah, the main stumbling block to complete domination of Lebanon by Israel. Plan A for Israel was to foment war with Iran over the nuclear issue, which would inevitably have repercussions for Syria and Hezbollah. Plan B is to eliminate any Syrian government that co-operates with Iran and Hezbollah.
    It’s an open question as to whether Israel’s agenda for Lebanon or the US/NATO agenda against the Russian Navy was paramount in the action against Syria.

  13. VietnamVet says:

    Great post. Thanks for the injection of sanity. I for one need it.
    The crazies in the basement brought us the Iraq Invasion and Occupation. The Secretary of Defense is one of them. Only Bernie Sanders is against setting up a Syrian no fly zone. Donald Trump would let Russia do the fighting. All the rest of the presidential candidates are mad dogs in the tradition of Senator John McCain and want to establish a Syrian no fly zone. Saudi Arabia’s mercenaries can’t make it pass the Jordon border without air superiority. This is impossible without an agreement with the Russians or a full blown air and naval campaign to destroy the Russian Air Force in Syria.
    The Saudis cut the Shiite Crescent with the financing of the Islamic State. They will spend as much as the can to keep it severed. Turkey needs money, wants to kill Kurds and rescue fellow Turkmen. Unless the USA explicitly tells them to stand down, the Sunni nations may perceive that they have gotten a green light to invade. If the crazies get their way, all hell will break loose.

  14. Can only say that the R+6 has identified the mix of Salafi/Jihadi groups as the maint threat, and they will consistently pursue until they have destoyed that threat.
    In a conflict with multiple actors, you try and go for the main opponent, while at the same time trying to mend fences with the one who can be brought “on board”.
    After that, you focus on the secondary threat. That’s the basics. In practise, things may look more confused, but the principles are there

  15. Depends what the US administration has defined as its strategy and interest in the region.
    That is not to say that this would be in the interest of (majority of) the American people.

  16. Hope the author of that piece was given a large paycheck for his very successful attempt at creative writing !

  17. T,
    I’m not saying this as a criticism, but I don’t work and make estimates based on twitter feeds. There is some info that could probably be used, but would need a lot of processing before being turned into useful intel. That being said, nothing wrong with following Twitter accounts (I do as well).
    Just a reminder, military operational tempo has nothing to do with Twitter TLs !

  18. Trey N says:

    Good question, cynic. I’ve been concerned about the same issue — and I’m sure the R+6 are also very well aware it. Perhaps the recent move towards the Tabqa dam reflects a redirection of attention towards the “eastern problem.” There are only so many assets to go around, but I sure would like to see the R+6 preempt a Borg attempt to steal eastern Syria.

  19. Trey N says:

    “…the Sunni nations may perceive that they have gotten a green light to invade.”
    Hmmm, another “April Glaspie moment?” (“We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”)

  20. Croesus says:

    Ashton Carter started “predicting” Saudi and Turkey would become involved against Syria shortly after Russia began its activities there —
    Russia will pay price for Syrian airstrikes, says US defence secretary
    Ashton Carter predicts reprisal attacks on Russian soil over Vladimir Putin’s military campaign to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime 08 Oct 2015
    Carter Outlines Strategy to Counter ISIL at Senate Armed Services Hearing 27 Oct 2015
    Carter: Russia ‘Doomed to Fail’ in Syria; ISIL Must be Defeated 30 Oct 2015
    ‘Great partners’: Pentagon rejects Russian evidence of Turkey aiding ISIS 02 Dec 2015
    “A Pentagon spokesman rejected Russia’s evidence of Turkey’s involvement in oil deals with Islamic State militants, calling Turkey a “great partner” just a day after his boss complained to Congress that Ankara was not fighting ISIS enough.
    “Let me be very clear that we flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL,” said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). “That is preposterous and kind of ridiculous. We absolutely, flatly reject that notion.””
    ‘We want them to do more’ – US defense secretary asks Turkey to seal Syria border 15 Dec 2015

  21. Thirdeye says:

    I agree about the pitfalls of Twitter feeds. Siderenko seems to be one of the more careful ones about vetting the claims and presenting different views from different sources – government, Kurd, and Jihadi. Right now there’s a great deal of uncertainty whether Marea is/isn’t in Kurdish hands and what the differing claims mean. There’s also a lot of uncertainty about whether or not the Aleppo power plant is actually captured or not.
    Given that the SAA does a lot of moves to keep the enemy off balance and guessing, it no doubt works on war-watchers as well.

  22. Thirdeye says:

    “Nawaf Obaid is a visiting fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.”
    Holy cow.

  23. Thirdeye says:

    I forgot to mention that the gulf states want pipeline routes for gas and for oil, as an alternative to shipment from the Persian Gulf, to the Mediterranean. They want to be assured control of those routes. The preferred possible route is through Syria. The other is through Yemen. So there’s a convergence of three sets of interests, US, Israeli, and Gulf-Wahhabi, in trying to gain control over Syria.

  24. Bill Herschel says:

    Apparently Turkish artillery can reach 25 miles into Syria. Given that artillery is a pretty potent weapon (cf. Joan of Arc), how does that affect the pockets?

  25. aleksandar says:

    Patrick, brillant as usual !
    I would have liked to have you as COS !

  26. Thx, did you mean COS / US style or COS / French style ?

  27. Kooshy says:

    Thank you for this great summery of what went on since last Friday’ supposedly cessation of hostilities/cease fire announcement. But what about the humanitarian aid part is that still on, and is going to happen or that wouldn’t happen as well?

  28. Trey N says:

    And the difference is…???

  29. turcopolier says:

    Like TTG I think it very unlikely. Obama os allowing the GBs to help the YPG at the east because that fits his fantastical opinions about IS, but at Azaz that would seem to him to be contrary to his desire to destroy the Syrian Government/YPG cooperation. pl

  30. mike says:

    Concur with PB. The Turkish Army is not happy with the thought of going into Syria regardless of Erdogan’s ideas. I may have to eat my hat if they move in against the PYD Kurds in the Jazira or Kobani cantons. But even there I suspect they will beef up and send in mpre Turkmen militias that they can disavow and not regular Army.

  31. Google “COS” & “acronym” and find out for yourself !

  32. Humanitarian aid is going to happen, already is being implemented.

  33. Seamus,
    Colonel Lang answered you, but I’d like to add my two cents. Too many people sell indigenous armies short. The YPG has proved to be a competent and effective light fighting force long before the arrival of the Green Berets. Obviously foreign resupply and air support helps. I’ve seen a video of an interview with a captured IS fighter who told of the prowess of the YPG fighters he faced.

  34. Fred says:

    “Donald Trump would let Russia do the fighting” You mean he’s not going to set up a no fly zone either. Seems a good idea since they are defeating our common enemy.

  35. Fred says:

    “Symbolically, also, the Caliphate would be cut off from one of its most cherished places: the small city of Dabiq, home to the “End of days” prophecy that features prominently in ISIS’ online magazine.”
    Shouldn’t this be a strategic goal in the ongoing effort in defeating ISIS and turning Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi into just another jihadist?

  36. Trey N says:

    I know what COS means, Patrick. What isn’t clear is your implied difference between the US and French “styles.” If there are such differences, I’m genuinely curious what they are — and which you prefer.

  37. David says:

    The drive towards Tabqa/Raqqa is significant on several counts.
    It gives the Government a propaganda win, as indisputable evidence to reject accusations that it isn’t serious about attacking Daesh, as well as removing a potential excuse for outside intervention.
    It is likely to disrupt Daesh’s operation of several oil wells in the region, depriving them of fuel and revenue.
    Life inside the caliphate is no longer fun- see Once it reaches Tabqa, the drive will add to the erosion of Daesh morale, knowing that their northern LOC is broken, and that the enemy is at the gates of their capital (or at least across the river).

  38. Nuff Sed says:

    Here’s a recap from the most informed poster at Ziad Fadel’s Syrian Perspective:
    Canthama February 16th, 2016 at 5:53 PM [Level 10 – Cesar]
    teevee, you are right about Raqqa. Some thoughts on the allied forces on the ground in Syria, the way I see it visa vis the troops re assignment.
    1) Any major attempt in Damascus and south has cooled down, with troops being sent to the offensive to Tabqa/Raqqa. Golan regiment etc…
    Actions in Damascus and south will be skirmishes and opportunistic, except Darayya.
    2) The offensive planned in northern Homs and southern Hama was frozen, in part due to the Russia-Gevena strategy. Skirmishes and small battles will happen though.
    3) Forces in eastern Homs on Qaryatayn and Palmyra are mostly for defense and small offensive, though they may find a breakthrough in Qaryatayn in the near future since the strategy is that instead of heads on to the city the allied forces are conquering hills and roads around it, a surrounding type of strategy for a checkmate with minimum losses and not concerned about time.
    4) Der Ez Zor is a fight to the death but no extra manpower there, air support is active but the Mad Druze has to deal with what he has.
    5) Qamishli and Hasaka were basically emptied of SAA soldiers and left with local militia and NDF, very reduced threat and forces.
    6) Aleppo. Here several fronts, but the southern front was frozen two months ago, with forces sent to east and north. East is doing a awesome job and is about to close a cauldron at the Thermal Power plant and after killing all ISIS inside is they will not advance further to Al Bab. They will let SDF/YPG go. The same for northern Aleppo, after the link with Nbul and Al Zahraa, the allied forces have cooled down, they handed over Kafr Naya to SDF/YPG and let the line at Misqan and Ahras, and it may be that the SAA deliver more cities to SDF/YPG, there are talks on Kiffin for instance.
    The point in Aleppo is a) to close the border with Turkey, and clearly SDF/YPG were armed and directed to do it, several reports 1-2 months ago of several SAAF/RuAF Helis delivering weapons to YPG in Afrin, we are seeing now them in use. b) link Nbul and Al Zahraa and cut the corridor, this is done.c) Pacify Aleppo city, this is a tough job and may require further fight in the NW and west of Aleppo, this will happen.
    Excess troop may be redirected to Raqqa front, it may be happening now through Khanaser, mind the last two days of relative calm in West/NW Aleppo after the allied forces have took control of the high ground on Tamurah, only active RuAF bombings all over.
    7) Lattakia, the whole deal here is to protect the Province, seal this very difficult border and get the high ground to control Idlib and NW Hama. This is basically done. But the forces will continue to seal the border with Turkey and may only stop at Bab al Hawa. Do not see these forces going into Raqqa as of now.
    8) Here comes the last piece, the offensive toward Tabqa/Raqqa. The forces on it right now are not large, though well equipped, but CAS is so far minimum. The advance has been “ok” since it is on the road, in the desert, no village to fight, only hills and some check points. By the time it gets to villages, oil and gas facilities and definitively close to Tabqa airbase, the forces must be 3-4x the current size if not more, the fight will be much more intense and inside villages, airbase and sites well defended. I can only see here some extra forces from northern Aleppo, some from eastern Aleppo but most likely thousands of new fighters from Hizballah, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Hearing Nasrallah today, it was clear to me Hizballah will go to Raqqa, so we should definitively expect these forces to be beefed up in the next few days or weeks.
    Cutting ISIS in Tabqa will be a death sentence to all ISIS in northern Aleppo, no more roads for them, and SDF/YPG/RuAF will cut them all in pieces. Taking Tabqa airbase and strengthening the presence of the allied forces there will create a pressure at Raqqa never seen in the past 4 years, with bombings and active ground forces. I believe the 4+1 C&C is timing the NE Aleppo campaign to close the border with the Tabqa/Raqqa, it makes all the sense for both to be coordinated. So forces are being deployed to respect this coordination and timing, things will happen in the next few days or weeks toward Tabqa and NE Aleppo border.

  39. FkDahl says:

    Say what? Any true Borgist primarily relies on twitter feeds from ‘activists’… you are a dangerous traditionalist monsieur Bahzad!
    Joking aside: continued fantastic coverage here.

  40. aleksandar says:

    Smile….NATO format..

  41. Cortes says:

    If posted elsewhere already, apologies.
    Comment by Anonymous at 17 February 10.07 may be of interest to military minds – if rubbish, please delete.

  42. Akira says:

    Questions for the experts:
    #1-It seems like the Russian aircraft have been maintaining amazingly high sortie rates. How does the Russian performance compare to what you would expect from NATO in the same situation?
    #2-The SAA 4th Mechanized Division was announced as a sort of new model army designed with Hezbollah/IRGC and Russian input. It has been fighting heavily in the offensive for some time now. What is the SST view of the results of this new organization?
    #3-We now are seeing a whole lot of T-90s on the battlefield. Even Hezbollah is apparently getting them. How do they match up against Turkish and Israeli armor?

  43. Laguerre says:

    “I’ve seen a video of an interview with a captured IS fighter who told of the prowess of the YPG fighters he faced.”
    Wasn’t that the one where the Da’ish fighter was facing imminent execution? He would have said anything to get out of being executed.
    Though in general I would agree with you. The Syrian Kurds have done a good job, much more coherent than most other participants in the war. Pity that it’s for an unrealisable aim. They will have to hand over most of that conquered territory when they make a deal with Asad, their thin band of agricultural land on the Turkish border not being the basis for an independent state.

  44. Poul says:

    Iranian news source claims that Kinsibba has been liberated.
    “The Syrian army says it has recaptured the strategic town of Kansaba in the northern countryside of Latakia Province after heavy clashes with militants.
    The retaking of the town allows the army to move on to regain the militant-held town of Jisr al-Shughour, northeast of Kansaba in Idlib Province, as well as other areas held by extremist groups in Idlib. ”

  45. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think the important thing is to note that people across 4 countries (Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq) – and now joined by a fifth one – have been fighting for 5 years on the same war theatre. They have learnt to work together and to work effectively. I expect that makes a qualitative difference in their performance in any future wars.

  46. Martin Oline says:

    Looks like Turkey is blaming the car bombing on anyone who backs the Kurds. I wonder if that includes the United States? From CBS news this morning:
    “Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters that a Syrian national with links to Syrian Kurdish militia carried out the attack in collaboration with Turkey’s own outlawed Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Davutoglu also accused Syria’s government of responsibility for allegedly backing the Syrian Kurdish militia.”

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