Skies thick with jets, rebels vow counter attack

Jaf Oct 21

 

Fighting continued across front lines in Latakia, Idlib and Hama last week. The latest round of hostilities saw limited government advances and liberal use of Russian air power. Hoping to continue their momentum, Government forces pressed their gains while rebel leaders plotted a counterattack.

Al- Masdar News reported that government forces fended off an opposition attack on Mount Durin and the nearby town of Kafr Dulbah in Latakia. Loyalist forces also entered Salma, the same report said. Later on, the site wrote that loyalist forces advanced on Tartiyah from Kafr Dulbah. Reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the action at Jabal al- Akrad, reporting heavy shelling and clashes. Al- Alam celebrated the government retaking of Jub al-Ahmar, Kafr Delbeh, Jourat al-Battikh valley and Rwayset Khandak Jamo.

1st Coastal Division FSA engages the government in Latakia.

A Sept. 2015 interview with “Abu TOW”

Government offensives take place under heavy Russian and SyAAF air power. An anonymous source told Xinhua that international flights are stopped at Bassel al- Assad international airport in Latakia. Domestic flights are still ongoing, the report said. Other outlets appeared to confirm these claims, with the reason being the bulk of airspace inaccessible due to military use.

Al- Masdar News published photos that seemed to show Major General Qassim Suleimani giving a speech to soldiers around Jabal al- Akrad. Suleimani commands Iran’s Revolution Guard, which the report claims are stationed trough Aramo, Slenfeh, and Al- Haffa. The same day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Iranian troops were being flown en mass into Latakia.

Sputnik wrote that the United States and Russia were narrowing in on a deal regarding Syrian airspace. The Ministry of Defense of Russia told Sputnik that Israel and Russia were coordinating to prevent aerial accidents above Syria. Russian air operations are being filmed, then sent to Baghdad to be analyzed in a joint intelligence center, Sputnik wrote.

Fighting continued around Jabal al- Akrad continued into Thursday. Multiple sources also reported a failed rocket strike on Russia’s airbase in Latakia.

Abu Hamza hits a government vehicle around Jub al-Ahmar.

The next day, pro- Damascus outlets declared government control over Jub al- Ahmar, Rabia, and Salma and general victory. Fighting continued in Kafr Delbeh and Kafr Ajuz.

U.S. officials told CNN that a drone shot down by the Turkish border was likely Russian. Russia Today wrote that the drone was not Russian as Turkish officials have claimed.

Latakia stadium hosts displaced Syrians. 

On the Ground News report from Latakia Positions.

TOW strike at Kafr Ajuz.

On Saturday, SANA issued a report on Russia’s recent air activity. The Russian Defense Ministry reported 49 targets hit during 36 sorties in the previous 24 hours. Among the targets were 15 camps, two military equipment bases, nine munition warehouses, eight fortified positions, three firing positions, and an explosives factory. The strikes were carried out across Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo, the report read.

Meanwhile, SOHR confirmed loyalist progress around Jub al- Ahmar in a report about ongoing fighting there. Clashes continued on the south side of Jabal al- Akrad, where the SOHR reported heavy shelling and aerial bombardment. On Tuesday, al- Masdar News reported government strikes against the 1st Coastal Division, as well as a successful assault on Tartiyah. An artillery barrage killed three Russians in the Nabi Younis area, according to Reuters. Rebels also engaged governent forces at Kafr Delbeh, according to SOHR.

1st Coastal Division fires at government around Kafr Ajuz, Kafr Delbeh.

Tensions escalated in Hama, when Jaysh al- Fatah declared of an operation to wrest the governorate from loyalist control. The previous week, rebel forces thwarted a loyalist advance on Kafr Nabudah, but lost some ground on other fronts. SOHR reported airstrikes across the province, with fighting ongoing around Mansoura and Kherbet al- Naqous. Rebel spokesmen confidently told Syrian Observer that pro-government forces failed to achieve “significant results” and that Hama’s liberation had only been delayed by Russian air power.

Fighting continued around Kherbet al- Naqous, Aqrab, according to SOHR. FARS News reported additional clashes in areas of Sahl al- Ghab.  casualties on Hama and Idlib. SANA said fighting in Idlib and Hama.

Jaysh al-Nasr cannon targets armor around Kafr Nabudah. 

Bombed out rebel base south of Idlib. 

Government General Ali Abdullah Ayoub inspected units in the western theater of Hama, state media reported. General Ayoub praised the troops for their high morale and determination, according to SANA.

Rebel groups fought the government in northwest Hama as ISIS forces massed in the east, SOHR reported. The monitoring group wrote that Kafr Zita received bombardment, and of fighting in Sahl al- Ghab. Kafr Zita and al- al-Latamina were subject to barrel bombs, SOHR wrote, with additional airstrikes throughout the province. Pro-government sources also reported heavy aerial strikes throughout Hama.

By Sunday, the rebel offensive had yet to come, but pro-government sources anticipated it soon. Al- Masdar News noted that capture of Hama would mean control of the M-5 highway, which connects government strongholds to their fronts in Aleppo.

Tartus and Latakia would be cut off from Damascus should the offensive succeed, wrote EA Worldview. The rebels remained committed to the offensive, the site reiterated.

Liwa Fursan al-Haqq hits tank, north Hama. 

On Monday, SOHR reported widespread fighting in Sahl al- Ghab. Rebels and government forces clashed in al- Mansoura, Kherbet al- Naqous and al- Maghyar. Airstrikes reportedly landed on al- Daqmaq, al- Mansoura and Tal Wassit. The next day, clashes and shelling continued across northwest Hama and Sahl al- Ghab, including al- Mansoura. FARS News reported “scores of terrorists killed in Hama.”

Fighting broke out on Wednesday in Hama’s northeast countryside. Islamist rebels fought loyalist forces, agreed pro-opposition and pro-government media. ISIS mobilized against the government in eastern Hama, SOHR reported. Syrian jets carried out strikes against ISIS in the region, FARS News wrote.

Airstrikes struck targets in Idlib. Pro-government pilots struck targets in Khan Shaykhun and helicopters attacked al- Taman’aa. The barrage of Khan Shaykhun continued into the next day, SOHR wrote, and planes bombed the nearby village of Tahtaya.

Al-Masdar News claimed Russian MI-24 Hind Helicopter Gunships chased rebel forces from Jisr al- Shugour across the Turkish border. FARS News also trumpeted the success of the air campaign.

Following up their attack on Sukayk, government forces took Tall Al-Ter’i, just south of al- Taman’aa, al- Masdar News wrote. From there, they reportedly attacked the town. Rebel reinforcements moved to counter the advances, SOHR wrote in confirmation the clashes. They also reported fighting in Ashatan in the north and the death of three foreign Jabhat al- Nusra commanders in an airstrike of unknown origin.

The Russian Defense Ministry issued a report on their airstrikes during the offensive. Flights decreased due to the ongoing ground operations by Syrian government forces, they said, but carried out 33 sorties across Idlib, Hama, Damascus, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor governorates. Among the reported targets were a missile system, arms factories, command centers and military positions. Al- Alam also wrote on these strikes, conflating opposition targets in Idlib for ISIS, which has no presence in the region.

Government forces continued bombardment of al- Taman’ah, wrote SOHR. After shelling and airstrikes, they reported on Monday that helicopters attacked the town once again. In spite of the violence in Idlib, the ceasefire for Fu’ah, Kafraya and Zabadani appeared to be holding, with the first aid shipments reportedly reaching their locations.

Green Lane Masjid distributes bread in Idlib. 

Meanwhile, pro-government sources celebrated tales of rebel infighting. Rumors circulated that Jaysh al- Fatah member group Jund al- Aqsa quit the alliance due to a reluctance to fight ISIS. Later reports indicated that Jabhat al- Nusra mediated the issue.

Airstrikes continued over Idlib, with the city itself reported bombed by SOHR. In a summary of Russian airstrikes, Sputnik and the Russian Defense Ministry continued their narrative of conflating other Islamist groups with ISIS. They reported an ISIS base hit in Latakia, despite the group holding no territory in that region. An analysis by Reuters determined that only 20 percent of Russian strikes target ISIS.

U.S. diplomats kept up their narrative of denying the relevance of Russian airstrikes. An anonymous U.S. official told CNN that Russian airstrikes were no game changer, as Damascus’ ground forces are “depleted and demoralized.” The source also said that the stakes climbed for Russia, as failure or backlash might lead to Islamic terrorism back home.

For background about Jaysh al- Fatah, check out last week’s writeup. (Links from September October 5 – 12)

Start at the beginning with my fall of Idlib post. (Links from 2011 – Summer 2015)

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