The Syrian government forces supported by Russian aviation have recently captured the city of Sukhneh, the last Islamic State (IS) stronghold in the central province of Homs.
By August 10, the Army took control of all strategic heights around the urban area to cut off the IS forces. On August 13, the militants were driven from the northern and western parts of Sukhneh.
With Sukhneh liberated, the Syrian army is one step closer to the task of breaking the IS siege to the eastern province of Deir al-Zour near Iraq, as the city is located on the road between the ancient city of Palmyra and Deir al-Zour. The advance will be possible after the area is cleared of mines and reconnaissance is effective enough to avoid militants’ attacks from behind. Now only a miracle can save the IS forces still holding positions in the eastern part of Holms province.
The advance towards the city of Deir ez Zor, the capital of Deir ez Zor province, won’t be a cakewalk but the jihadists’ resistance is growing weaker and there are no serious fortifications barring the way. The Russia-trained «5th Corps» of the Syrian Army is leading the advance. The Corps is an elite first strike formation fully trained and equipped by Russia.
According to the Russian General Staff, Syrian government troops used to control a little more than 12,000 square kilometers of land before Russia launched the operation in Syria. Currently, the territory controlled by Syrian military has increased up to 74,200 square kilometers. For comparison, besides the Syria’s government forces, only the Kurds expanded the territory under their control. They seized 340 square kilometres in the recent two months while the jihadists lost 4,336 square kilometers in the same period of time. The so called “moderate” opposition lost 2,784 square kilometers.
The IS terrorists in Deir Ez-Zor have received large reinforcements and now are attacking government troops in the area. The US-led Syrian Democratic Forces let terrorists escape from Raqqa and move to other places. The same way the US-led coalition allowed IS fighters to leave Mosul in Iraq and move to Deir ez-Zor. US aviation rarely strikes extremists moving freely from besieged urban areas. If Deir ez-Zor is captured, the IS will free significant forces to reinforce its positions in other places. The city will become the new capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate.
Much has been said about the importance of liberating the encircled city of Deir ez Zor and the entire province of the same name but little has been done in practical terms. After Palmyra was freed for the first time, the Syrian General Staff took the decision to concentrate efforts on liberating Aleppo. The best units moved to the north leaving Palmyra to its fate.
Then Syria’s government forces made an advance across the desert in the direction of either Raqqa or Deir ez Zor. The objective was not stated officially. As a result, Palmyra was captured by IS again as it advanced making Syrian troops retreat.
The Deir ez Zor defenders have been heroically defending the city for more than a year since then. They repel all the attacks of IS fighters but if it were not for the supplies dropped from high altitude by Russian aircraft, the city of Der ez Zor surrounded by jihadists would have fallen a long time ago.
The Syria’s former 137th air base and the airstrip near Deir ez Zor are under IS control. With this advantage they have failed to get into the city. Pretty soon they’ll have to forget about seizing Deir ez Zor redirecting the forces to fight the Syrian government troops on their way to oust the jihadists from Deir ez Zor province and take over its besieged capital.
With Sukhneh liberated, the Syrian Army is going to advance to the east (Deir ez Zor) and the north (Raqqa). It is moving ahead getting around the town of Madan where the retreating IS forces found a refuge. Making jihadists retreat from Madan to Deir ez Zor would be a significant step forward on the way to liberate the country.
The Syrian Army has learnt for Russian advisers that troops airlifted by helicopters into the enemy’s rear greatly facilitate the accomplishment of the mission. Two years ago Russian advisers suggested that such tactics be employed before the first offensive to retake Palmyra started. Now the Syrian military has acquired the needed skills. The forces are airdropped into the IS rear, especially in the direction Raqqa, taking key positions in the desert and on the roads.
Two years ago the Syrian Army had neither transport helicopters nor trained personnel for assault operations behind the enemy lines. The Russian assistance and instructors have changed it all. Inexperienced Syrian rookies have turned into well trained, combat ready, seasoned warriors contributing greatly into turning the tide of war. Hundreds of soldiers of the Syrian special forces have been trained by Russian military experts. Syrian pilots are trained to operate new models of Mig fighter jets.
The Russia’s instructors have taught the Syrian soldiers to cut off isolated enclaves. They have been employing this tactics for about a year. For instance, that’s what the Syrian government forces are doing right now in Eastern Ghuta, employing the stick and carrot tactics. The districts that joined the de-escalation zone get supplies and are granted partial self-rule. Syria’s special services (muhabbarat) and pro-government militia (shabiha) don’t enter these areas. The checkpoints are under Russian peacekeepers’ control. It was different in the municipality of Jobar, where the rebel leaders’ intransigence made the Syrian government forces use artillery and aviation.
It’s up the Syrian command what to do next. One could only guess when the IS jihadists will be wiped out completely. But they will be routed because the Syrian Army today is not what it was two years ago. With Russia-supplied weapons, training and advice it has become a formidable force to leave terrorists no chance.