Wednesday, January 13

"Islamist defenses collapse in N. Latakia as Syrian Army advances to Turkish border"

Over at Sic Semper Tyrannis they're excited about the SAA victory at Salma yesterday and so am I; today Al Masdar had more news about the rout, so I'll start with their report then move to SST's expert analysis. 

But first -- I'd mentioned yesterday at the end of Al Masdar's report on Salma that enemy fighters fleeing the action for Idlib were going to run into problems, and that in the next post I'd report on the SAA offensive there, which started Monday. But after noting that neither SANA nor FARS mentioned the offensive, I've decided to forego discussion of Idlib, beyond passing along what SST has to say about it, until one of those sites reports on it.

For readers who can't stand the suspense, I don't know whether the Idlib offensive that began Monday is the long-awaited pincer movement that SST's Patrick Bhazad predicted months ago in at least one of his sitreps, although it could be, from his comments and Col. Pat Lang's yesterday in the course of discussing Salma. (See below). The stated objective of the offensive is to completely isolate Idlib, which sounds like a pincer movement to me, but I want to wait and see.

One more point before I turn to Al Masdar's report. You'll note from the report that the Syrian Army attack on Salma routed Nusra Front and elements of the FSA (Free Syrian Army). This kind of news causes Western military officials to say, 'See, they're not going after Islamic State.'

The criticism overlooks how IS has grabbed so much territory in Syria so fast. They creep behind rebel groups and when those have finished with the hard work of overtaking a position and are exhausted from the fighting and low on ammo, that's when IS strikes -- and takes away the position from the group.          
It's evident by now that with Russian help, the SAA and its ever-growing coalition have put together a methodical order of battle that takes the IS modus operandi into account, and which is based simply on retaking ground no matter which group controls it. This strkes me as the intelligent way to go about warfare when much territory has to be recaptured.      

So what can seem scattered bombing raids and random 'small' ground offensives aimed at non-Islamic State targets isn't random at all. This becomes very evident when one studies the map that accompanies the following report at Al Masdar. 

Meanwhile, the Russian and Syrian air forces are also going after the key source of Islamic State funding in Syria, its oil smuggling business.

(As to IS revenue from taxation -- a few months ago, in reply to a journalist's remark that IS controlled 70 percent of  Syria, President Bashar al-Assad said that most of what they control is sand. In other words, big stretches of desert in Syria that don't have enough inhabitants to contribute much to IS coffers. In Syria it's all about the roads; so while IS can control roadways, that's not saying they have large populations under their control to tax. About 80 percent of Syrians live in areas under the control of the Syrian government.)  
Islamist defenses collapse in northern Latakia as the Syrian Army advances to the Turkish border
By Leith Fadel
January 13, 2016 - 2:49 pm [local time]

The Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) suffered one of their largest defeats in the last three years on Tuesday, as they rapidly retreated from the strategic town of Salma in Latakia’s northeastern countryside after the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and their allies overran their positions.

Making matters worse for the Islamist rebels, the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade of the Republican Guard – backed by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Liwaa Suqour Al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade), Muqawama Souri (Syrian Resisstance), and the National Defense Forces (NDF) – continued their advance in the Latakia Governorate’s northeastern countryside on Wednesday, capturing the villages bordering the town of Salma.

According to a military source in Jabal Al-Akrad (Kurdish Mountains), the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade and their allies imposed full control over the villages of Al-Kawm, Al-Mareei, Marj Khawkhah, Beit Miru, Al-Hawr, and Al-Maruniyat after an intense series of clashes with the Islamsit rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army.

With the aforementioned villages under the Syrian Armed Forces’ control, the Islamist rebel defenses have virtually collapsed amid the imperative loss of Salma.

Salma is the situated at the highest point in Jabal Al-Akrad; its loss will be felt by the Islamist rebels in the coming weeks as the Syrian Armed Forces continue to advance towards the Turkish border.


From Sic Semper Tyrannis, Jan 12, Pat Lang's commentary on Al Masdar's report about the SAA victory in Salma (Salma falls to R+6):
It seems likely that the main further advance in the area will be from Salma and Al-Rabiya NE up the M4 to Jisr al-Shugur and thence to Idlib City.  At the same time there is a road that runs SE from Salma that leads down into the plains of Idlib Province.
The pincer movement and Kesselschlacht in Idlib takes shape.  pl

Are we witnessing the emergence of the first visible cracks in the Syrian rebels' armour ? It may be too early to predict a breakdown in their defensive posture on the ground, in North-Western Syria, but what commentators on SST had been expecting may be about to start and the "snow ball" effect might set in earlier than expected.
The Borg's discourse has remained unchanged over the past weeks. Unable to see their narrative for what it is, the proponents of the all too familiar "Assad must go" solution keep arguing that the Russian involvement in the war has been marginally influential at best, detrimental to Putin's interests at worst. Well, reality is a bitch, as these good folks might find out soon. As we speak, R+6 troops are moving in on the rebel held town of Salma, North-East of Latakia, in an offensive that has the potential to cause the breakdown of this entire stretch of the front-line.
Entrenched in strongly fortified positions, rebel units of various colour hadresisted Russian airstrikes and Syrian artillery up until now, sustaining only "minor" territorial losses according to the Borg. But as any first year student of Clausewitz will tell you, defensive warfare only trumps offence if managed properly. The breakthrough of a large attacking force through defensive lines on the other hand can cause for the disruption of the entire strategic balance of power, therefore potentially nullifying any advantage the defending party might have.
Is this what we are witnessing in and around Salma? It may be too early to tell, but the signs are there and should be a warning to all those who have been arguing that no military victory is possible. Now obviously, they may have a point insofar as a strategic stalemate is one possible scenario for the current conflict, with both sides and their sponsors being in a position where they can never be totally defeated, but can't win militarily either.

However, this is a debate for the coming SITREP. Tactically on the other hand, an overwhelming victory of the R+6 on various battlefields of the current conflict is a distinct possibility. The way in which Russia, Syria and Iran could use that victory depends on their strategic goals, and the reaction of their opponents. Things might get settled at the negotiating table, as peace talks are supposed to resume at the end of this month, or the military option might be favoured, in which case we shall witness yet another round of fighting, whose outcome seems less and less likely to favour the opposition.
But first things first. The SAA, NDF and their allies (Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and IRGC advisers and units) are advancing on every front they are currently fighting. Up until now, these gains might have looked "marginal". But in a war of attrition, and actually any war for that matter, "marginaldoesn't mean anything. Once the strategic breaking point is reached, "marginal" gains can turn into a landslide advantage, opening the way to a totally different phase of combat. With the R+6 breaking through rebel lines at the key town of Salma, in Latakia province, they might just have precipitated the rebels' crashing down in that area.
Combined with the newly launched R+6 offensive West and South-West of Aleppo, a picture slowly emerges that SST had been forecasting for some time: the Salafi/Jihadi "emirate" of Idlib is at risk of being taken in a pincer move, which might crush most of the forces currently present in this area. Assuming the Syrian army, or their allies, launch yet another operation attacking Idlib from the South, the horizon for the various rebel groups looks quite grim. The days to come will be interesting. 

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