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Islamic State being steamrolled in Syria

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Following the Siege of Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Army has shifted its focus towards land grabs. While Aleppo was still under control of the jihadist groups, the government controlled the coastline, most of the areas along its border with Lebanon, and much of the area surrounding Damascus with some major exceptions. Ever since liberating Eastern Aleppo, the SAA has kept the Al-Qaeda linked groups at bay in the region west of Aleppo. The SAA hasn’t launched any major offensive other than to recapture the gains of jihadists in the Idlib Province north of Hama. Instead, Assad’s forces have focused most on ridding the Islamic State from the desert, leaving hardcore terrorists fright moderate terrorists.

 Figure 1: Syria December 22nd, 2016. East Aleppo under government control

Figure 1: Syria December 22nd, 2016. East Aleppo under government control

Things are looking bleak for ISIS in Syria. Their capital Raqqah is under siege with coalition forces reclaiming 60% and growing of the city. The closest forces to break the siege are about 45 km east and 36 km south using the most up to date maps. The Kurds have been instrumental in defeating the Islamic State, and the Syrian government is content to let them liberate Raqqah. Urban warfare has been brutal in the region with the past Sieges of Aleppo and Mosul both proving difficult.

After Aleppo, SAA with the assistance of Russia and other allies began increasing its land by first recapturing Palmyra which they accomplished in March. Afterwards focused attention on the Iraqi border and desert land south of the main road that goes through Palmyra. Meanwhile east of Aleppo, along the Euphrates River, it’s almost a race between Assad and the Kurds as to who can capture the land first. Neither group is fighting one another, but each village counts when the two groups will eventually negotiate a final peace.

Figure 2: Syria August 23rd, 2017. Most of the land gains are within the last couple months

Figure 2: Syria August 23rd, 2017. Most of the land gains are within the last couple months

The objective for Assad’s forces is clear. Government forces have been under siege by ISIS for five years in Deir ez-Zor. However, it is not a perfect siege. Russia and Syria have been able to supply their forces under siege due to the Islamic State’s lack of anti-air. No doubt the Syrian government is striving to break the siege. Breaking the siege would be a morale boosting victory that would further reinforce Assad’s eventual victory. The SAA captured as-Sukhnah on August 5th which is the only major settlement between Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor. But in the last two weeks, the SAA has decided to clean up rather than rush to break the siege. They have attacked ISIS in the region northwest of Palmyra from the south, north and west. The Islamic State’s oil fields were split by the SAA, rendering the isolated territory under siege and useless. Syria is about to isolate another oil rich mass of land via capturing land directly north of as-Sukhnah.

This break from marching on to Deir ez-Zor was brief because reports show the Syrian Army captured about 30km of highway. The Islamic State has few victories to claim as the defeats keep piling up in Syria. It’s only a matter of time before the five-year siege is broken and intense fighting along the Euphrates begins. For now, Syria enjoys relatively easy victories bringing it one step closer to peace.

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