Today marks one of the most remarkable days for the Syrian army in terms of its campaign over the past eight years. The military offensive launched some three months ago in north-western Hama and south-eastern Idlib, has been gaining a steady momentum that has culminated in a victory and virtual elimination today of all armed groups and hardline militias, including extremist al Nusra terrorists in the area, once and for all.
The outcome of the Syrian army’s operations over the past three weeks only has resulted in liberating some 100 towns and villages, 14 strategic hills, 15 km of the Aleppo-Damascus motorway, taking over an area over 500 square km wide, in addition to relieving some 300.000 civilians from direct terrorist shelling and 400.000 others from indirect attacks that have ravaged the region for over 6 years.
Impressive tactics with outstanding results
The Syrian army has deployed massive firepower and elite forces in the operation targeting militant groups in an area of some 700 square km s, with thousands of hardcore fighters, heavily fortified positions and a massive arsenal of weaponry and direct Turkish intelligence, logistic and military support. Supported by a relentless and overwhelming Syrian and Russian aerial campaign that destroyed ammunition dumps, supply routes and vehicles, the army deployed a besiege, shell and conquer tactic, enemy strongholds started falling in a domino-effect manner.
Taking the strategic Khan Sheikhoon, largest city in Idlib southern region a couple of days ago, marked a fatal blow to the already demoralized rebel forces in the area. The jaws of the pincers tactic I spoke about in a previous article here, developed and completed the siege after army units advancing from the east of the city, met with those attacking from the west. Conquering the surrounded rebel strongholds was a matter of time only, but the speed in which they collectively fell today surprised even the most optimistic of observers and military analyst; it was the largest single-day achievement by the Syrian army in over 8 years of the war.
Collective collapse of enemy strongholds
Among the towns, villages and swathes of land announced in an official Syrian army communique released earlier today as totally terror-free, were Khan Sheikhoon, Latamneh, Latmean, Kafr Zeita, Mourek, Lahaya (East and West), Al Sayyad, The Valleys of Anz, Assal, Hissmean, Kissmean along with a dozen other villages and hilltops. From here, the Syrian army’s offensive is set to advance towards the remaining cities, towns and mountains in rural Idlib before reaching the city itself, where tens of thousands of al Nusra, (Syria version of al Qaeda terrorist organization) have been heavily entrenched for over 6 years now, in anticipation of the mother of all Syrian battles. Over 1.5 million civilians live in the area, making any large-scale military offensive a costly operation with a potential massive refugee crisis.
Whether the Syrian army stops here, at least for some time, giving yet another chance for a withdrawal without fight from Idlib by al Nusra and its sisterly terror groups who have vowed to fight the Syrian state to the bitter end, or continues to liberate more towns and areas and lay siege over Idlib, out of government control for more than six years now, remains a wild guess. The regional, international and humanitarian factors that play into this decisive showdown over Idlib, believed inevitable by the majority of Syrians, further complicates matters for the Syrian leadership.
Future of Turkish Observation posts
Following the complete conquest today of Hama north-western areas, a lone Turkish so-called observation post remains in Mourek, looking helpless and utterly out of place. This brings into question the issue of Turkish observation military posts, a dozen of them, along with the feasibility of those posts who have proven, at best, to be no more than shelters for militia commanders and rebels fleeing from the battlefield. ” Observing what ?!” exclaimed a Syrian soldier in Mourek today after the army conquered the town. “All Turkish soldiers here can obsrve is themselves. Let them pack their gubbins and leave. There’s no need and place for them here”, he maintained.
On a sudden visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut today, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted to the issue by claiming that “Turkish soldiers are not besieged in Mourek, we can leave if we want, but we do not want to leave”, he said. The official as well as public mood in Syria, however, tells a different story; ” Turkish and any uninvited foreign troops must leave Syria, by hook or by crook” Syrians insists.
Syrian jets shelled the front vehicles leading the way for a 50-truck strong Turkish military convoy near the city of Al Maarah, Idlib 4 days ago, destroyed the bridge the convoy had to cross, stopping the vehicles in their tracks and preventing them, by fire power, from completing their journey in support of collapsing Turkish-backed militias. Two rebel leaders were killed and 12 others were wounded in the air strike; a strong message to Erdogan and his men in Syria.
The convoy incident, the ongoing Syrian army advances in Hama and Idlib and the future of Turkish observation posts in Syria are among the main topics expected to be discussed between Russian president Putin and his visiting Turkish counterpart, when Erdogan visits Moscow this coming Tuesday.