Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
3rd January, 2016
*Disclaimer - the Russian-Arabic translation of names of villages will not be exact, and will have some discrepancies. The names of major cities and provinces are correct.*
On the 30th December, it became exactly 3 months since direct Russian intervention in the Syrian military conflict. There is no doubt that the Russian operation has not only saved the Leader in Damascus from imminent death, but also determined the future of the current war. Thanks to the work of our aviation government forces, for the first time in a very long period of time, the Syrian Army were able to exit from a position of defence and to assume an active role in offensive operations on all the fronts.
Despite the analytic forecasts of the Sivkov's, Nesmian's (el Murid) and Khramichikhin's (pessimists), the Syrian government forces, with the support of its allies, have for the last three months achieved significant progress. And the fact that Damascus did not achieve in time for the New year the establishment of control over the Syrian-Turkish border and the clearing of the entire province of Idlib, has caused some political commentators to say they were wrong in their forecasts, and that Moscow and Damascus' promises of this kind are not allowed.
The chronology of events
Using weekly reports of the Institute of Middle East Studies and websites of "Wiki" format, we will try to establish the chronology of events.
30 September - 10 October
Government troops' attack, with the active support of the Lebanese Hezbollah, IRGC, Iraqi and Iranian "volunteers", as well as a dozen combat units, began exactly one week after the introduction of the Russian aviation in the current conflict. The offensive was preceded by the destruction of the military infrastructure of the militants, both on the frontline and in the background. In the first stage, the Russian operation worked intensively on the infrastructure of the rear rebels. In the future our air force began to actively support the advancing of troops on the front line.
As of 10 October, the Russian operation destroyed 24 militant checkpoints, 14 warehouses with ammunition and 7 factories that created improvised explosive devices. For the current period, 294 sorties were made, with 221 objects being destroyed. On October 7, the launch of 26-ship "kalibr" cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea took place.
Government troops chose to focus on airbase "Kwereis" in the East of Aleppo, which at the time had been blockaded for more than 2.5 years. On 9th October, progress was made in this direction in the village of al-Dzhabul. In Hama province, control of the major cities of Kafr Naboodah, Latman and villages Markabat and Al Mogheyr was established. Just afterwards, heights were taken of al-Havir, Al-Tal Sugar and Osman. In the province of Latakia, terrorists were repulsed from the height of Jebel Ahmar. The control of the heights in the current conflict determines future offensive actions in certain sectors of the front.
October 11 - 20 October
For a specified period of time the number of Russian air sorties was 447, with 534 objects destroyed, which indicates an improving efficiency. In the future this trend is to be maintained.
Government troops went on the offensive in the direction of the under-siege air base "Kweries", according to which is only 4 kilometers away. They captured Dzhabbul city, tal Naam Hadadin, al-gharbiya and al Madadzha, and 11 small settlements. During the course of this offensive the ISIS Caucasus Commander Uwais al-Kokazi was killed. Because of the success of government forces, Daesh had withdrawn their reserves from the Kurdish areas and moved their support to defend the East of Aleppo.
In the province of Hama, government forces had liberated the strategically important city of al-Lihya, al-Mansour, and got a head start at Faure, Tel-Shek, as well as the villages of Atshan, Al-Jani and al-Safsafa and Jani Elelbavi. The Russian helicopter pilots provided active support for the Syrian army. In Homs, small towns and areas of Al-Mukhtar and Masharaa were captured. In the province of Latakia, government troops finally drove the rebels back from Kafr al-Dalby and several heights near the city of Salma.
Also, on 13 October, the death in Syria of the second person in the hierarchy of Daesh was announced - Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. Details are unknown, however, some information claimed that al-Turkman was eliminated by the air attack of Russian aviation. Some other sources claim that the right hand to the "Caliphate" was destroyed by the American coalition.
October 21 – October 31
For 11 days the Russian operation made 632 sorties, which resulted in the destruction of 747 objects of ISIS. At this stage, the press service of the Russian Ministry of Defense gave up the practice of daily reports; therefore the possibility of accurate assessments from the sorties was called into question.
In the province of Aleppo, government forces continued their offensive in a Western direction, resulting in the recapture of cities Al-Sabaki and Shakidla, the village of qal'at al-Najah, Hadadin, Mleyha, Abatyn, al-Vasya and Kodar. On the outskirts of the airbase "Kwereis" fierce fighting continued near the town of Sheikh Ahmad. The leader of the group "Jabhat Ansar al-Din", Nasif Ismail, and authoritative field commander of "Jabhat al-Nusra", Sanafi al-Nasr were killed.
Fighting in Latakia province continued, where the Syrian army managed to establish control over the height of Katef al-Gader. During the fighting and bombing, prominent field commanders of the terrorist groups were destroyed. On October 17th, the commander of the 1st turkomens ("Coastal") brigade, Abu al-Walid, was killed. In the province of Homs, the villages of Snisil, al-Mahatta and Gavlak were captured. In Quneitra — Dahr al-Kassar, al-Rabaa, al-Seria Toranja and Shaban. In Damascus, the village of Nola, Bala, Basin and a few blocks of the city Marj al-Sultan were taken. In the province of Hama the city of Morek was liberated.
The very influential field commander of "Jabhat al-Nusra", Ali al-Turki, was killed. It became known that the deceased was the head of the division, which consisted of Turkish citizens. A day later the ringleader of "Jund al-Aqsa", Mohammad al-Salem, was eliminated. In general, fighters in the designated period of time suffered very significant losses in the commander department: 16 emirs and commanders.
November 1 – November 15
During the designated period of time Russian aircraft made at least 720 sorties, with the result being 1600 terrorist objects destroyed.
In Aleppo province the Syrian army had scored important victories in the south. So as a result, the government regained control of Al-Khader, Banes and Rasmi al-Sahredzh and entered the suburbs of Khan Tuman. The villages of Dzhamima, Mariamin, Hadadi, Zahra Hadid, Maraan, Hamimiya, Hamid Hamidi, al-Mashrafa, al-Sabha, Arbeyd and Arbeyd Saghir were also liberated. In Aleppo, the Syrian army had destroyed Islamist HQ's in Salehin, Safe al-Dawla and al-Rashedin.
The Russian bombing of rebel positions in the west and south of the province of Aleppo significantly added to the list of high-ranking "martyrs." "Jabhat al-Nusra" lost Abu Muaz al-Sham. "Ahrar al-Sham" missed five field commanders: Abu Ali al-Naimi, Abu Abdullah Rsafa, Abu Basit Mahmoud Abu Islam al-Hamwi and Ashraf al-Jamia Muheyra. "Jaish al-Islam" lost Abdullah Saleh, and in Lebanon's "al-Farouq", Ahmad Ukabu was killed.
But the main result of the offensive by government forces was the breakthrough to the under-siege air base "Kwereis", followed by the establishment of a security zone around its perimeter. The army managed to establish control over a major portion of the Aleppo-Raqqa route. Removing the blockade of "Kwereis" became a symbol of the rise of the Syrian army offensive.
In the province of Latakia, government forces took control of the town and villages of Gmam Jab al-Ahmar, Mafraq Beit Abu Riisha, Candia al-Hama and Khirbat al-Jub Zarur. Also taken was the height Katf Hasun Caba al-Ahmar. In the area of Palmyra, Baraui, Aziz and Aziza Samaan villages were liberated. In the district of Damascus, the second airbase in two weeks, "Marj al-Sultan", was captured. Certain progress had been made in the areas of East Gouta, Haraszti city and in the province of Daraa.
In Hama province, the Syrian army, with the support of the Lebanese Hezbollah, took control of the Khanasir route that connects Aleppo and Hama province. The militants were driven out of the cities and Akayba Murakami, as well as settlements of al-Lahayya, al-Latamna, al-Taman, al-Safsafa, al-Karim, Ramala, Cabra Fida and Al-Ashraf.
November 16 - November 30
For the specified 15-day period, the Russian operation made an average of 112 sorties a day, hitting about 150-160 terrorist objects, including the use of long-range bombers Tu-22M3, Tu-95MS and Tu-160. For the first time since the entry of the Russian aircraft into the conflict, massive strikes on the oil infrastructure of Daesh were inflicted. Amongst other things, Russia inflicted airstrikes on militant positions in the area of Ras Baalbek in Lebanon.
To the east of Aleppo, near the airbase of "Kwereis", the Syrian army continued to expand the security zone. No significant progress had been achieved in the western provinces as the government troops with the active support of "Hezbollah" and Iranian "volunteers" occupied the city of Al-Ais and Sheikh Said. They liberated the village of Umm Zilayla Tal Ayub, Umm Al-Marri, Hamima, Rasmi al-Aboud, Karm al-Katerdzhi, al Minsar and Balat. In the course of this offensive, Russian T-90 tanks made their maiden appearance.
In the province of Latakia, liberated towns included Deir Hanna and Tel al-Hadar. Control had been established of the heights near al-Rahman al-Khidr, al-Markashila, Jab al-Ahmar and Jabal al-Rahmaliya. In the area of the Russian aircraft, some commanders of terrorist groups were killed. "Jabhat al-Nusra" lost Zakariya Abdullah, and the "Free Syrian Army" lost Bikdasha Rashid, who led the operation and is likely to have found the downed Russian pilots.
The Syrian army continued its movement towards Palmyra, managing to reach the outskirts of the city. An important city, Mhin, was captured but after a while was retaken by militants. Today the city is in the hands of government forces. In the southern provinces, the Syrian army had made significant progress: they managed to dislodge the militants from several quarters in Douma, East Gouta, Haraszti and Derry.
December 1 - December 15
During the first weeks of December, the Russian operation made approximately 70-75 sorties per day. They destroyed about 1400 objects of the militants. General strikes were carried out on the border with Turkey in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Latakia. The same method of attack that happen earlier occurred once again on December 8, where cruise missiles "Kalibr-PL" were launched from the submarine "Rostov-on-Don."
For the first time appeared, reports came that the Russian operation were "airbase jumping." In particular, it was known that the airbase "Shayrat" (province of Homs) was undergoing renovation work. The Ministry of Defence, in turn, said that there will not be a second base in Syria. However, we are not inclined to take such a statement seriously.
[O.R: The MoD statement was proven to be a bluff, with a third base also being discovered]
Heavy fighting continued in the province of Aleppo, where militants had attempted to recapture recently lost settlements. Government forces were able to repel the Islamists at settlements Zeytan, Al-Qala, Hals, Homeyra, Al Kaladzhiya, Karasu and Tal Badger. In the East, a village was taken - Al-Shuvayla. On December 15th the airbase "Kwereis" became active.
Fierce fighting resumed in the province of Latakia, where government troops managed to regain the village of Beit Faris, Acre, Booz al-Harbi and Attiru. The Latakia-Kassab highway had been cleared, which was under the control of militants in 2012. In the province of Homs, the Syrian army came close to Palmyra. The fighting was on the heights surrounding the city. The evacuation of militants with their families from the city of Homs continued, resulting in the government forces gaining almost complete control over the city. Among other things the road Homs-Palmyra was restored.
In Damascus, Daraa, and Quneitra government forces continued to squeeze militant's from neighbourhoods of major cities, including the administrative centers. For 15 days in Daraa province alone 11 villages were captured in the three cities. The commander from the faction "Shuhada Liwa al-Islam,", Abu Maher Malek, was killed. The areas of Zimrin and Symlin were liberated.
16 December - 31 December
The intensity of the work of Russian operations from 15 to 31 December was estimated at 60-70 sorties per day. They destroyed more than 2,300 objects of militants, among which were 650 fuel tankers belonging to Daesh. Since the beginning of Russian operations in Syria, Islamists have lost at least 2 thousand fuel trucks.
In the province of Aleppo, government forces continued to expand the security zone around the previously unlocked airbase "Kwereis." Full control was installed on six settlements. On the west of the province militants were driven out of the town of Khan Tuman. The Army retook the cities of al-Khalid and al-Carasso.
The Syrian army had some success in the province of Latakia, where in one day (December 18) they captured six heights. On the border with Turkey, government forces were entrenched in the mountains of al-Nuba. They captured the village of Jabal al-Aswad, al-Harami, Talet al-Awda, Soda Ain and al Kabir. They restored control of the settlement of Kassab. A hotbed of terrorism, the city of Salma turned into a scene of fully-fledged shooting. The Syrian army took all the dominating heights around this locality
In the province of Homs, government forces recaptured the city of Mhin. In the suburbs of Daraa the army took control of Sheikh Miskin. No significant progress has been made in the other provinces. However, the most memorable event in December was the elimination of the leader of the group "Jaish al-Islam" Zahran Alloush and his closest associates. Syrian media have claimed the army was responsible for the air strike itself, but the Iranian and Saudi press reported that Alloush was destroyed in a Russian raid.
In general, the outgoing month was very successful for the Syrian army. Optimism is in the fact that the government forces continued their offensive in December, which was not the case in previous years.
We are obliged to emphasize that the proposed chronological list can be highly informative. However, the format of this material does not allow for the names of all the cities, villages, small towns and infrastructure liberated from the terrorists in the past three months. However, even the most conservative estimates indicate that it is at least two-dozen cities, more than two hundred villages and four highways.
In total, after three months, government troops occupied, in the province of Latakia, more than 270 square kilometers, which is a very significant value, since we are talking about mountainous regions. In the east of Aleppo, about 120 km was taken from the terrorists, and to the West and south about 410 km. In the provinces of Hama, Idlib and Homs approximately 120-125 km was lost and in Damascus, a little less than 50 km. In the southern provinces, a total of about 90 km. Thus, over the past three months, the Syrian army was able to reclaim about 1200 km from the terrorists.
Russian operations from September 30 to December 31 made approximately 6 thousand sorties, during which at least 8.6 thousand facilities of the militants were hit. They involved strategic bombers Tu-22M3 and Tu-95MS and Tu-160, and the launch of the "kalibr" missiles from surface and underwater carriers from the Caspian and the Mediterranean Sea. In general, the Russian armed forces are now engaged in major military exercises.
The militants suffered very significant losses. "By means of objectivity" (photo, video, or an official statement from a management group), it was found that terrorist groups over the past three months have lost at least 217 emirs and high-ranking commanders. Commanders of small units are not taken into account in the statistics. The brunt of the losses fell on "Jabhat al-Nusra", "Ahrar al-Sham" and the "Free Syrian Army": every second destroyed commander belongs to one of these groups.
On the total number of fighters killed it is very difficult to say, but you can determine the approximate number using the formula that has been tested by time. As practice shows, one of the killed commanders accounts for 30-35 killed soldiers. Thus, over the past three months, the Islamists have lost about 7-7.5 thousand soldiers. This assessment is indirectly confirmed by official reports according to which the militants a day on average lose 70-90 people.
Amongst other things, the Russian bombardment operation created a wave of pacifism in the ranks of the militants. Almost every week was accompanied by reports of the mass surrender of the Islamists, mainly in the southern provinces of the country. So, just for December 6, 180 insurgents in the province of Daraa laid down their arms. Earlier in the same area 850 people moved to the side of the authorities. On the 12th-13th October in Hama and Damascus, 558 militants surrendered. In general, the number of militants who sided with the Damascus is estimated at 3-4 thousand, who all fall under the amnesty law.
However, the main achievement of the Russian aviation is the undermining of the socio-economic structure of the "caliphate" and not the number of militants and destroyed military infrastructure. We have repeatedly pointed out that all the power of ISIS can be explained by the total supremacy of religious fanaticism against the model of a secular society, which is offered by the government in Damascus.
All Daesh successes are due to entering into arrangements with local tribes, clans and business elites, who in exchange for their loyalty to the "caliphate" received a significant share in joint business. Thus, the bulk of the funds from the smuggling of Syrian oil end up in the hands of local tribes and clans, and not just the "caliphate." This equally applies to the trade in archaeological artifacts - ISIS takes currently only 25% in taxes.
The most profitable for the local clans and tribes (painted by their loyalty to Daesh) is the trade in smuggled oil and oil products. So, the big "businessmen" have a very substantial fleet of tank trucks and a few "wholesale markets", where the oil goes to private owners, a few makeshift refineries and mini gas stations. Many of the same "cut" their transit flows across "border" checkpoints.
The tragedy of the Egyptian Sinai plane crash and the infamous story of the downed Russian plane in northern Syria were immediately reflected in the cozy oil business of the Islamists. The Russian airforce began to methodically destroying objects of ISIS' oil infrastructure, including columns of fuel trucks, which significantly affected the local business. Obviously, loyal ISIS tribes and clans withdrew, and the military and political leadership "caliphate" suddenly had a new problem. Once again, we allow ourselves to make the assumption that Daesh will be destroyed in the implementation of "Kadyrov schemes", when a number of influential clans or tribes go on the side of Damascus or Baghdad. Fortunately, the prerequisites are in place.
The pace of the government forces can be comparable to the experience of the second "Chechen campaign" in view of the Syrian realities. 6-8 months to isolate pockets of resistance, year and a half for the destruction of large gangs, and several years on a permanent regime of counter-terrorist operation. It is likely that the timing can be changed in favor of Damascus, but it depends entirely on the tractability of local clans and tribes. An important factor is the internal situation in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In general, the entry of the Russian armed forces into the Syrian conflict has not only saved the Syrian government from imminent destruction, but has also given ordinary Syrians faith in a brighter future. The author of this material had the opportunity to correspond with ordinary Syrian citizens. And if in June the Syrians quite seriously discussed "escape routes", now these same people are extremely thankful and share their thoughts about the post-war world order.