Map + field report: Military situation in eastern Syria
The eastward push by pro-government forces on multiple fronts stretching throughout the vertical length of Syria since the beginning of 2017 has proven to be a relentless endeavour. In particular, since the liberation of Palmyra in early-March, pro-government operations to restore control over the strategic spaces of central Syria have accelerated. The following field report is a summary of events in eastern Syria over the last week.
Ethriyah-Rasefeh Road Axis
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) – led by the elite Tiger Forces – has in recent days captured and consolidated its defences around the SyriaTel checkpoint. It is at this location that the SAA has so far repelled at least three ISIS counterattacks which were aimed at re-seizing the area and limiting the pro-government zone of control over the road. As of now, the SAA is about twenty (20) kilometers from reaching the town of Ethriyah and trapping whatever ISIS forces might remain in the Khanasser region.
Palmyra-Arak-Sukhnah/ Talilah-T2 Airbase Axes
The SAA and accompanying allied forces have advanced southeast of the T-3 Airbase and its attached complex, expanding their zone of control along the road which links Talilah to the T-2 Airbase; here the capture of the strategic town and area of Bi’r al-Dulai’yat by pro-government forces has helped to consolidate their control over most of the road.
All these latest advances have also served to expand the pro-government presence throughout the Syrian Badia and create a buffer zone to protect the southern flank of Palmyra from sporadic ISIS attacks. Furthermore, pro-government forces are now within 100 kilometres of the strategic ISIS-held border town of Al-Bukamal. Furthermore, pro-government forces have consolidated their presence along the Syrian-Iraqi border with the recent liberation of the al-Waer Dam.
On the Arak axis, the SAA – led by the 5th Assault Corps and 11th Armoured Division – have faced hard resistance by ISIS as they pick their way through the various interconnecting mountain chains that run north of the Homs-Dier Ezzor international highway. The fanatical resistance being put up by ISIS is to be expected given that pro-government forces are now closing on the terrorist group’s last stronghold in Homs Governonate – the oil-rich town of Sukhnah – which also represents that last feasible line of defence that can be held by ISIS to stop pro-government forces from lifting the siege of Deir Ezzor.
Salamiyah-Aqriybat (East Hama) Axis
The long-awaited pro-government offensive on the Islamic State’s east Hama bastion has thus far stalled. Preliminary engagements with ISIS forces in the region over the past fortnight has demonstrated that ISIS (likely numbering in the thousands) is willing to put up a strong resistance; even worse for pro-government forces, the terrain greatly favours ISIS and the terrorist group has had years to prepare defences. However, SAA sources claim that a large pro-government offensive is looming with the redeployment of massive army reinforcements to the east Hama combat sector, including the veteran Desert Hawks Brigade. Photo evidence has been released to suggest that this is in fact the case. As with all large pro-government offensives, SAA and allied forces on the ground will be backed-up by Russian airpower.
East Damascus (Rif Dimashq) Countryside Axis
The SAA and other pro-government outfits have continued advancing against US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) mercenaries in central Rif Dimashq Governonate, taking control of the key areas of Bir Qassab and Tall Dakwah. Pro-government forces have so far repelled several FSA offensives to recapture these areas; so far every small FSA advance made net smalls gains (normally the seizure of several checkpoints) which are then later retaken by pro-government forces.