This is another analytical piece by Evgeny Krutikov, who covers the Syria war for VZGLIAD newspaper. I summarize his text, without adding any of my own commentary.
Recent successes of the Syrian Army include liberating a major section of the main highway leading from Damascus to Homs; and also steadily drawing closer (only 6 kilometers away now!) to the ISIS-occupied airbase Kweres (see my previous post on this issue, which was also a Krutikov piece).
According to Krutikov, the liberation of Kweres Airport will be, when it happens, a strategic victory for the Syrian Army.
Krutikov goes on to criticize the Syrian General Staff, which he sees as not having a well-defined military strategy.
Krutikov describes a press conference given by Syrian Brigadier-General Ali Maihub. [yalensis: Googling the latter’s name to get the correct spelling, I also found this piece in English, which describes either the same, or similar press conference, given by Maihub, in which he “reels off” body counts of militants killed and Rebel vehicles destroyed.]
Without dismissing the importance of, say, liberated villages, or “fighting on the outskirts of a psychiatric hospital”, Krutikov is not overly impressed by these types of minute details; he is anxious to see larger and more strategic successes.
What is the Strategic Goal?
There are at least two points of view regarding the next strategic goal of the campaign against ISIS. According to one point of view, Syrian government troops and ancillaries should be concentrated for maximum effect in no more than two fronts.
The other point of view is to attack in as many directions as possible, all at once, in order to demoralize the enemy and not allow him to concentrate his forces.
This divergence of plans seems to have divided the Syrian General Staff. Initially, the plan was to concentrate the main strike force in the Central area, at the approaches to Al-Lataminah. This strategy then evolved into Version 2.0. Then it was Aleppo. And in the end, progress slowed down on every part of the Front, and none of these strategic objectives were achieved. Meanwhile, at the approaches to the Turkish border, fierce battles are taking place for the city of Salma. Russian aviation is helping, but Krutikov believes this is pointless: Even if Salma were miraculously to be liberated tomorrow, this still wouldn’t further the objective of pushing the militants back into Turkey. Reason being that Salma is located in the foothills: Behind it is a mountain range. It’s like pushing back against a wall.
Krutikov goes on to list a series of other roadblocks, setbacks, and impedients to success. Even worse news is that ISIS and its allies (Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army) have managed to sport a couple of counter-offensives, for example, near the city of Morek (Murak), which even Brigadier-General Maihub had to admit.
What to do?
Krutikov goes on to analyze the negatives sides of both strategies listed above. He does not believe that either one can be successful, for various reasons listed (government forces exhausted and over-extended; Rebels well dug in; etc.). Instead, he supports a “third way” type strategy, which he sees actually starting to take place.
Instead of wasting resources on secondary goals, the “third way” is to focus everything on the re-taking of Aleppo. And pushing the militants back over the Turkish border.
ISIS will respond by organizing more counter-offensives on the larger front from Latakia to Lataminah. This is where Russian air strikes can be of huge assistance to the government forces.
Krutikov ends his somewhat pessimistic piece by pointing out, that the weather does not seem to favor the Syrian government. A cyclone came out of the Mediterranean Sea, bringing rains and heavy clouds; whereas Hama was struck by a sand storm. Both types of weather hinder bombing raids. This bad weather will last at least a week, and this is bad news for Syrian government forces.