Syria War: Some Tactical Issues

This piece in VZGLIAD is military analysis (author = Evgeny Krutikov) of the successes achieved so far by the joint Russian-Syrian campaign against ISIS, along with some tactical issues and paradoxes.

The piece is too long to translate in full, but I have summarized its major points, without inserting any of my own thoughts or commentary:

Headline:

THE TACTICS OF THE SYRIAN GENERAL STAFF RAISE A SERIES OF QUESTIONS

In some areas of Syria, the war has taken on the character of “All against All”, which makes the tactical situation on the ground highly complex and even paradoxical, as one can imagine.

In the past week the Syrian army, backed by Russian aviation, has been able to make significant advances (against ISIS) in a number of key regions.  However, while the overall strategy of the Syrian General Staff is quite clear, their tactics  at times raise a series of questions.

One of the major fronts is around the city of Aleppo.  There, the so-called “pro-Western” militias (Free Syria Army, or FSA), who have been for over three years now besieging and terrorizing Aleppo from the North and Northwest, were suddenly forced to flee, by the arrival of the ISIS forces.  Panicky alarms were issued that the “black flags of ISIS” had breached the city walls.

Initially, the Syrian government forces had a clear objective:  to free Aleppo from its medievalist blockade by clearing out the Oppositionist enclaves.  There had been various, mostly unsuccessful attempts to break through at various areas of the front.

Syrian army needs to take back the Kweres air base.

Then, last week, with ISIS suddenly showing up to the North of Aleppo, the government forces took action with the assistance of Russian air strikes.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army troops also began to advance from Al-Nasiriyah  in a Northeast direction, toward the Kweres air base, which is in the hands of the FSA.

No doubt the Syrian commanders believed that ISIS, then in the process of retreating from Russian air strikes to the North of Aleppo, would also contribute to weakening (FSA) forces around Kweres.  But this is not what happened.

For several days Russian aviation (no doubt at the tactical request of Syrian government) had been pounding positions of attacking ISIS forces; and yet omitted to bomb (paving the way in) the Al-Nasiriyah advance.  As a result (of this oversight), the Syrian government forces got bogged down and had to give up (temporarily) their attempts to re-take Kweres.

At the same time, the ISIS Victory March North of Aleppo, was halted, after only 24 hours of triumph, by Russian bombs.  Once again, in this complex war of “All against all”, the FSA were able to take advantage of the setback to ISIS.

The main tactical question raised here is this:  In retrospect, might it have been a better use of Russian aviation to clear the ground for the Al-Nasiriyah offensive, rather than (wasting its time bombing) the ISIS forces to the North of Aleppo.  This is a question which should be addressed to the Syrian General Staff.

Bad News Good News

On the “Good News” side of the ledger:

Aleppo has been under blockade by Islamists for over 3 years.

The second strategic offensive of the Syrian Government troops was more successful:  This one being the advance to the Southwest direction, in order to remove that part of the blockade from around Aleppo.  Assad’s troops, showing their expertise in ground offensives, and tank maneuvers, were able to advance almost 100 kilometers, re-taking around 10 villages and towns.  What is even better news, is that the offensive is continuing, although at a slower pace now.  The main operative goal appears to be the town of الهادر   (Al-Hader), a large populated town and transport hub; and then, from Al-Hader continuing on to unify the front in the province of Hama.

[The article goes on to list a series of tactical successes of the Syrian army.]

Another important success was achieved in the province of Homs, for five years now the enclave of various nests of Oppositionists, of every possible stripe.  Finally, after all this time, with the assistance of Russian aviation, Assad’s forces have manged to split this enclave down the middle.  Re-taking it fully will be a long and onerous task, and it is not even important to undertake right now, as Homs no longer poses a threat to Damascus.  De-blockading Aleppo is more important, for example.  Or clearing out the pockets of Islamists who continue to fester in the suburbs of Damascus.

Krutikov concludes his analysis and advice with the following paragraph:

At this time, no full-frontal offensives of government forces against ISIS are possible, without solving the problem in the rear, namely the de-blockading of Aleppo, re-taking the Kweres base, the liquidation of enclaves, and clearing out the approach to the Turkish border.  The Golan Heights can wait.  Then we shall see.

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