After weeks of daily bombardment by mainly Uighur and Uzbek-led terrorists of civilian areas in Aleppo, the Syrian army, aided by Russian and Syrian jets have retaliated with extensive raids targeting terrorists fortifications, ammunition depots and supply lines in both Aleppo and Idlib rural areas. The air raids were in preparation for the land offensive which started yesterday against heavily fortified bases and rocket launch areas primarily run by Uzbek and Uighur terrorists who constitute an essential striking arm of the anti-government military campaign in the northwestern part of the country.

Military sources close to the elite Tiger forces (recently renamed the Anti-terrorist 25th Division) of the Syrian army, led by Brigadier Soheil al Hassan, pointed out that among the prime goals of the ongoing land operation in the province, is securing two mainland commuter and transportation arteries, namely the M4 and M5 highways under provisions of the Sochi agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September 2018.

The first highway, the M4, in question is the main land route between Aleppo and the capital Damascus, out of action for over five years due to rebel control of large section of the highway until last year. The second highway. The M5 links Aleppo to the strategic coastal city of Latakia on the Mediterranean. Both routes pass through several cities and towns that have been liberated by the Syrian army after fierce and costly military confrontations between the army and rebel groups, some are main proxy militias supported by Turkey and or some Arab Gulf states, mainly Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Two highways that could decide much more than transport

The Sochi agreement, rejected by al Nusra terror group and its affiliate splinter factions, provides for joint Russian-Turkish patrols and posts along chunks of the two highways. However, non-conforming militias have been systematically breaching the truces and consecutive ceasefire deals, launching a rocket and mortar attacks as well as suicide bombings against both military and civilian targets in Aleppo and rural Idlib, Hama, Homs and the Latakia mountain range along the Turkish borders.

Control of the two highways shall be a major achievement for the Syrian government. In addition to being key for the revival of strong internal and external trade and land transportation of goods and passengers, especially after the reopening of the main al Boukamal/al Qa’im border crossing between Iraq and Syria last September, Retaking the two highways is pivotal in imposing a strangling siege over terror groups in provincial Idlib and its fortified strongholds both above and underground. Retaking the two main roads will enable the Syrian government to connect the newly reopened border crossing with Iraq – long closed by ISIS terrorists who controlled the area for years, and later by US troops and their Kurdish SDF allies, with Syria’s major Mediterranean ports of Tartous and Latakia

The Turkish military intervention in the area last October, code-named ‘Peace Spring’, has shifted the balance of force in the north against Kurds in the region and changed the running order of Kurdish priority list in light of the threat of an overwhelming Turkish military might which threatened to uproot armed Kurdish militias, and dismantle the very backbone of Kurdish dream of autonomy or independent entity someday, the US-backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and their main component, the YPG militia, branded a ‘terrorist’ organization by Ankara which insists the group is the Syrian arm of the outlawed PKK that has been fighting Ankara for decades, inside Turkey itself as well as in northern Iraq and Syria.

Syrian army’s top guns run Aleppo/Idlib offensives

Syrian army’s elite 4th Division, led by General Maher al Assad, brother of Syria’s president, is leading the current offensive to purge Aleppo’s western countryside and stifle terror rocket and mortar attacks on civilians in the city that was liberated some three years ago. Approximately 70% of Aleppo was totally or partially destroyed in the conflict before the Syrian army and its allies managed to liberate the strategic city in December 2016. The operation in Aleppo’s western countryside is taking place parallel with the ongoing offensive by Tiger forces in Idlib, where massive achievements have been made over the past few months. The area is fraught with TIP Uyghur, Uzbek, Kazak and Chechen hardcore fighters.

The last truce which announced by Turkish and Russian leaders last week regarding the ‘De-escalation Zone’ in Idlib, was followed by three humanitarian corridors opened by the Syrian army in al Hader, al Habeet and Abu Duhoor to enable civilians willing to leave rebel-controlled areas before a major military offensive takes place. Hundreds of families have managed to do so, despite threats and shelling by al Nusra and other terror groups to intimidate and prevent civilians they have been using as a ‘human shield’ from crossing into government-controlled areas. Civilians continue to trickle through these corridors, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped, against their will, and forced to stay as a’ human shield’ ahead of a now-certain major military operation to liberate Idlib, Syria’s last major battle against Islamist fanatic extremism and international terrorism.

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