Syrian War Report – January (12, 11, 10), 2018

Syrian War Report – January 12, 2018: Militants’ Counter-Attack In Southern Idlib Ends In Disaster

On January 11, so-called “moderate opposition” groups operating in Idlib declared an official start of the operation to assist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) in its effort to counter the ongoing advance of government forces in the area of Abu al-Duhur.

Faylaq al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Jaish al-Nasr, Jaish al-Nukhba, Ahrar al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party, the Free Syrian Army’s 2nd Army were among the group that joined the battle on the side of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Furthermore, Faylaq al-Sham actively used Turkish-supplied military vehicle against government forces.

The militants attacked positions of the Tiger Forces and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) southwest of Abu al-Duhur and event entered a number of the government-held villages, including Astshan, Khuwaya, Sahal, Tell Maraq, Ard az ZurZur and Um Khalakhil. However, by the evening, the militants’ counter-attack had slowed down and they retreated from almost all captured positions.

According to pro-militant sources, HTS and its allies killed over 20 SAA members and captured about 50 others as well as destroyed a BMP armoured vehicle and captured a battle tank belonging to the army.

However, the militants’ temporary success appeared to be a failure when the SAA, backed up by the Russian Aerospace Forces and Iranian-backed militias, attacked HTS’ positions in southern Aleppo and liberated the villages of Eluf, Umm Gharaf, Umm Ghabar, Sabihat, Eitatan and Umm Sanabil west of Khansir and deployed within about 3km from positions of their allies south of the Abu al-Duhur airbase.

Meanwhile, Liwa al-Quds, a well-known pro-government Palestinian militia, has deployed reinforcements to the area south of Abu al-Duhur in order to support the ongoing SAA advance.

In Eastern Ghouta, the SAA and the Special Mission Force (SMF) captured several positions around the police department in the eastern part of Harasta as well as entered seven farms north of Douma. According to opposition sources, Syrian warplanes carried out over 50 airstrikes on positions of Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Rahman and HTS in Harasta, Irbin and Madira.

Fighting in the Armoured Vehicles Base area is still ongoing.

The de-escalation zones in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta de-facto collapsed as so-called moderate opposition groups had once again failed to separate themselves from the terrorists like HTS.

Syrian War Report – January 11, 2018: Syrian Army Launches Final Push To Capture Abu al-Duhur

On January 11, the Tiger Forces, the Syrian Army (SAA) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) launched a final push to recapture the strategic Abu al-Duhur Airbase from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in southern Idlib.

Government forces reached the airbase on January 10 after capturing the villages of al-Baiyaiyah, al-Dabshiyah, Zafr Sagheer, Zafr Kabeer, Bayaa Kabeera, Bayaa Sagheera, Um jorah, al-Buwyti, Rasm Ayed and Um Jareen. Since then, intense fighting has been ongoing in the area.

Separately, the SAA, the NDF and Liwa Fatemiyoun liberated Ramla, Muzayila, Nawara, Rasm Sheikh and Tall Sabha. Should government troops capture Mazyunah or Qital, they will cut off HTS forces in northeastern Hama from their counterparts in Idlib. In northeastern Hama itself, government forces already captured the village of Umm Myal.

Reports also appeared that HTS started withdrawing its forces from Hass Mount northeast of the Abu Duhur airbase preparing for an inevitable collapse of its defense there.

However, this still has to be confirmed.

The ISIS-linked news agency Amaq claimed on January 10 that ISIS members attacked the SAA south of the Abu al-Duhur Airbase, killed 3 SAA members and captured 5 others. ISIS used the collapse of HTS to expand own influence in the area. According to pro-opposition sources, the total number of ISIS fighters operating there had recently grown to 900. Most of them are defectors from HTS and other groups of the so-called moderate opposition.

Over 80 members  of Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Rahman and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham have been killed and over 100 others have been injured in clashes near the Armoured Vehicles Base in Eastern Ghouta over the last few days, according to an officer of the SAA’s 4th Armoured Division contacted by SouthFront. However, fighting is still ongoing in the base area and government forces will need to contribute more efforts to secure it.

According to opposition sources, the Syrian Air Force carried out over 353 airstrikes on the militants’ positions in the last 11 days.

Jaish al-Islam also attacked positions of the SAA near the village of Ayn Zuriqa in Eastern Ghouta unofficially assisting to the Ahrar al-Sham-led attack on the Armoured Vehicles Base.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) released 400 former ISIS fighters a few weeks only after they had been captured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on January 10. The SHOR added that 120 released ISIS members then joined the ranks of the SDF. Previously, the SDF released 75 former ISIS members on May 8, 2017 and 86 on November 8, 2017.

On December 16, the Russian military said that the US-led coalition uses the al-Hasakah refugee camp as a base for training former members of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant groups.

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – JANUARY 10, 2018: MILITANTS’ DEFENSE COLLAPSES IN SOUTHERN IDLIB

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Tiger Forces and their allies have continued to advance in the Abu al-Duhur Airbase area in southern Idlib and have liberated the villages of Jakusiyah, al-Rahjan, Miraya, Tamakh, Miyal, al-Adiliyah and others from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda).

According to pro-government sources, the SAA also started a bombing campaign against positions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the airbase itself and the Tiger Forces even attacked militant positions in its vicinity.

Should the SAA keep the current tempo of its advance, it will reach Abu al-Duhur within the next two-three days.

The ISIS branch in Daraa province, the Khalid ibn Al-Waleed Army reportedly captured Al-Jubayliyah from its counterparts, ie from other militant groups in southern Syria.

The Syrian Air Defense Forces thwarted three Israeli missile attacks on targets near Damascus, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement on January 9. According to the statement:

  • At 2:40 local time Israeli warplanes launched several missiles from Lebanese airspace at targets near Damascus. The missiles were intercepted and one Israeli warplane was targeted by air defense forces.
  • At 4:00 local time, two surface-to-surface missiles were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. They were also intercepted.
  • At 4:15 local time, Israeli forces launched another 4 missiles from the Golan Heights. One missile was intercepted and the others hit a target causing damage to positions of Syrian forces.

The ministry added the Israeli actions were aimed at supporting militants operations in the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus and to counter the victories achieved by the Syrian Army in Idlib province.

The US Navy’s Boeing P-8 Poseidon military aircraft was detected in the area between Russia’s Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility in Syria when militants attacked the facilities using 13 armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the night on January 6, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on January 9.

“…it is a strange coincidence that during a UAV attack on the Russian military facilities in Syria, a US Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft was cruising for more than four hours over the Mediterranean Sea at an altitude of 7,000 meters,” the statement said.

Separately, the ministry revealed via its newspaper, Red Star, that the aforementioned UAVs were launched from the “Muazzara settlement located in the southwestern part of the Idlib de-escalation zone controlled by the armed forces of the so-called moderate opposition.”

The ministry has sent letters to Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan saying that “it is necessary for Ankara to meet assumed obligations to ensure ceasefire by controlled armed forces and intensify efforts to put observation points in the de-escalation zone in Idlib for preventing such UAV attacks on any targets.”

Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the SAA of “hitting the moderate opposition with the excuse they are fighting Nusra. [HTS]” Cavusoglu said the SAA’s actions undermined diplomatic efforts for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is not clear what kind of so-called moderate opposition Cavusoglu had found in the Abu al-Duhur area controlled by HTS.

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