Syrian offensive in key As-Safira district encircles ISIS fighters, securing communications from western Syria to Aleppo and Rusafa, and bringing large areas of central Syria under Syrian government control.
Unreported by the Western media, the situation in the Syrian war continues to shift decisively in the Syrian government’s favor, and continues moreover to do so at a blistering rate.
Following the Syrian army’s recent capture of the strategically important town of Rusafa in northern Syria, the Syrian army has launched a major offensive further south against ISIS fighters occupying the key As-Safira district in Aleppo province around the town of Khanasir. ISIS fighters occupying this district – the last area of Aleppo province still held by ISIS – have been resisting fiercely, but Al-Masdar reports that they are now totally encircled by the Syrian army.
The Syrian army offensive in As-Safira district is led by the Desert Hawks Brigade, a unit which originally began as a volunteer militia unit formed by Syrian army veterans to support the Syrian government in the war, but which has acquired a formidable reputation as a fighting unit, and which is now fully integrated in the Syrian army. It seems that the Brigade has been thoroughly retrained and re-equipped by the Russians over the last few months, and that along with other advanced equipment it now possesses a number of advanced T90 tanks, which have proved highly resistance to the US made TOW anti tank missiles possessed by ISIS fighters in large quantities.
The destruction of the ISIS force in As-Safira will have three important consequences for the Syrian army:
(1) Already according to Al-Masdar the Tiger Forces – a different elite unit of the Syrian army which spearheaded the offensive on Rusafa – has fully cleared the Ethriyah-Rusafa highway in a separate movement from the north. This move has not only trapped the ISIS fighters holding out in the As-Safira district, but it has opened a direct and much faster line of communications between the Syrian army’s forward positions in Rusafa and its main bases in western Syria. This is how Al-Masdar explains it:
….this most recent accomplishment by the SAA has a second strategic benefit in the form of a new, and more direct, line of communication that has now been opened to pro-government forces stationed in the area of Rusafa (south of Tabaqah); the original supply line to this area was exceptionally longer, running from Ethriyah, to Aleppo, to Deir Hafer, to Maskanah, and then finally to Rusafa. The new line of supply runs directly to Rusafa via Ethriyah, shaving many precious hours off the original logistical haul. The capture of this stretch of critical highway will increase the sustainability of any future operations that the SAA may undertake to strike at Deir Ezzor from the northern direction.
(2) It enhances the security of the city of Aleppo. ISIS fighters based in the As-Safira district have regularly acted to cut the main road links from southern Syria to Aleppo, with the Syrian army repeatedly forced to deploy large numbers of troops to repel these attacks and to keep the roads open. Capture of the As-Safira district will finally end this threat, further securing the Syrian government’s hold on Aleppo.
(3) Capture of the As-Safira district will end the existence of a dangerous ISIS/Jihadi controlled salient, enabling the Syrian army not only bringing more territory under the Syrian government’s control and enabling the Syrian army to advance further eastward, but almost making it possible for the Syrian army to shorten significantly the length of its front lines.
In the meantime, as the Syrian army continues to strengthen its position in northern and central Syria, reports have been circulating that the US is now considering withdrawing from the base it has illegally established in the south of Syria on the Iraqi border in Al-Tanf.
These reports have not been officially confirmed. However a US decision to withdraw from Al-Tanf makes sense given that the value of this base has been completely negated by the Syrian army’s advance to the Iraqi border.
If these reports are true then the US withdrawal from Al-Tanf will also inevitably result in a large block of territory in southern Syria along the Iraqi and Jordanian border falling under the Syrian government’s control. Here is how the Moon of Alabama – which discusses the reports of the US withdrawal from Al-Tanf extensively – explains it all:
About 150 or so U.S. trained Arab fighters will be flown from al-Tanf to north-east Syria where they will join the (hated) Kurdish forces. They may later try to reach the ISIS besieged Deir Ezzor from the north or get pushed into some suicide mission against another ISIS position. The Syrian army will approach and liberate Deir Ezzor most likely from the south and east. It is unlikely that it will let U.S. proxy forces take part in that. The U.S. contingent will move west out of al-Tanf and back into Jordan. The Syrian and Iraqi forces will take over the Al Waleed border crossing at al-Tanf and the regular commercial traffic on the Damascus-Baghdad road will resume.
The various propagandists who argued for a big U.S. mission to occupy the whole Iraqi-Syrian border and all of east Syria have lost. The “Shia crescent” between Iran and Lebanon they claimed to prevent with such a move was never a physical road connection and certainly nothing the U.S could fight by any physical means. Their pushing for a U.S. occupation of east Syria and incitement of a larger conflict has for now failed.
To which I would only add that if the US pulls out of Al-Tanf and the belt of territory in southern Syria that it and its ‘Free Syrian army’ proxies have occupied, then the areas still under Jihadi control in southern Syria including in the Damascus countryside will be reduced to a few isolated pockets. Even though some of these are supposed to be covered by one of the ‘de-confliction areas’, realistically they would no longer be viable or sustainable, and their collapse would only be a matter of time.
Most probably – in the way that is now traditional in the Syrian war – their surrender to the Syrian authorities would be rapidly negotiated, with the remaining Jihadi fighters still present in these pockets driven by secure convoy to what will soon be the last remaining non ISIS controlled Jihadi refuge in Syria, which is Syria’s Idlib province.
Several commentators noted President Assad’s visibly high spirits during his recent visit to Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria’s Latakia province. With the war going decisively and rapidly in his favor, he has every reason to be happy.