Saturday, 25 May 2013

Turning Point: Battle for Al-Qusayr

Artillery, Air Force and Infantry elements were assisted by Hezbollah and National Defence Force guerrillas in the battle against divided radical militant groups
Following the securing of villages surrounding the key city of Al-Qusayr in Homs province, Syrian aircraft dropped flyers over the city on May 10th. The flyers informed civilians in the besieged town of a corridor to the North through which they were urged to evacuate pending an imminent offensive to uproot embedded militants. Observers were expecting a speedy offensive, but due to a lull in civilian evacuation,the assault was postponed on or around May 14th. Recently, reports suggest civilians who later tried to leave, were forced to stay, utilised as a human shield by divided, arguing militant factions.

Why is Al-Qusayr  important?

Al-Qusayr is a small city with a population of between 30,000 and 50,000 about 9 km from the northeastern border of Lebanon. It is also 22 km southwest of Homs.  Due to it’s proximity to Lebanon, Al-Qusayr is an attractive position for militant groups trafficking arms and personnel. Al-Qusayr is a strategic link between Damascus, the coast, and Homs, Hama and Aleppo to the north. Since March, the Syrian army has been on the offensive, securing key areas in Aleppo, Damascus countrysideDara’a and Homs. The primary objective of these pinpoint operations is the disruption and eliminating of supply lines from neighbouring countries, a lifeline enabling militant groups to continue their attrition against Syrian army installations such as airbases. In Rif Dimashq (Damascus countryside) specifically, militant organisations intensified attempts to disrupt life in Damascus with regular mortar and rocket attacks, and occasional car bombs.
Following a stunning deployment of artillery and airpower on May 19th, Syrian forces and it’s allied guerrilla detachments of the National Defence Forces (NDF) and Hezbollah stormed Al-Qusayr. Within the first day, the centre of the  city was secured following the witnessing of the church having been destroyed by militants – Al-Qusayr has a significant Christian population.
Photo taken during early hours of offensive
Photo taken during early hours of offensive
According to our source, the greatest challenge for Syrian troops and it’s guerrilla allies, were Chechen militants and entrenched, well trained snipers.
Underlining the logistical and strategic importance of the city, insurgents were reported to be well armed and consistently firing hundreds of rounds a minute while deploying mortars and rocket propelled grenades. During the day, 20th May, the Syrian army were reported to have control over 60% of the city. Since then, their advance has been reported as slow, but significant as the role of aircraft and armoured units became more limited, presenting infantry with the objective of fighting in a heavily built-up area.
Significantly, the Syrian command left the Northern gateway out of the city wide open. Initially, this was the corridor for civilians who were urged to evacuate in the days and weeks before the assault. Little is known about the motive for such a decision, but it is highly likely that this is in order to draw adversaries into open ground to allow for accurate targeting and eventual defeat of armed militants who will have expended supplies during their encirclement. Indeed, a split between two groups emerged following the near total encirclement of the city – those who wanted to fight to the death and those who wanted to evacuate the city in anticipation of a saturating Syrian army assault on the city.
As of today, the situation remains slow but steady. The various army brigades involved in the multi-directional assault on the city are converging in the south of the city, readying for an assault on the west. The battle is not over and what will become of the remaining adversaries in the northern corridor of the city remains to be seen.
The following video shot from the outskirts of the city documents the opening hours of the assault:

After the Battle of Al-Qusayr

A map posted by Syrian Perspective‘s source, which sheds light on Syrian army strategy. As noted, Al-Qusayr’s surrounding areas were subject to a build-up and eventual encirclement of Syrian troops and allies. Northwest of the city, the villages of Al-Hamidiyah and Al-Haydariya were secured – completing a chain around insurgent positions and entrenchments. It is expected that militant groups will be fully encircled, sieged and eliminated in order to secure Homs governate (province) in it’s entirety.
Syrian Perspective's map showing Syrian Army, Hezbollah, NDF positions and it's adversary's entrenchments
Syrian Perspective’s map showing Syrian Army, Hezbollah, NDF positions and those of it’s adversaries
The army’s strategy of securing important cities, towns and other populated centres while placing less emphasis on isolated rural positions, has paid off.  It is possible that the army and it’s allies will fully secure the west of the country and move east in an effort to confront Al-Qaeda and other factions which are particularly active in that region.
Take note of surrounding positions of Hama city, including Talbiseh and Rastan.

From predictions of Syrian army collapse to increasing victories on the ground

Reports of new counter-insurgency strategies in early 2013 appears to have paid off, with a clear increase in morale for Syrian troops. Reports from Damascus indicate an increasingly confident administration. More recently, Russia’s transfer of advanced P-800 Oniks/Yakhonts anti-ship missiles underline Moscow’s position on the conflict – one which is against foreign intervention.
Yakhonts anti-ship missile with a range of up to 300 km. Syria's possession of upgraded missiles will reportedly thwart plans for a naval blockade and no-fly zone
Yakhonts anti-ship missile with a range of up to 300 km. Syria’s possession of upgraded missiles will reportedly thwart plans for a naval blockade and no-fly zone

A marked re-calibration in Syrian army methodology can be traced back to the latter weeks of 2012, where reports of “opposition victories” were attributed to the overrunning and capture of insignificant, isolated Syrian army positions and installations. In fact, reports suggest that military strategists have decided against the defence of strategically unimportant outposts, in favour of an operational consolidation of manpower and equipment in order to pursue direct confrontation with militant organisations.
Consideration of the Syrian army’s tendency toward Soviet military doctrine from the years of President Hafez al-Assad and the close relationship between the Soviet Union and recently Russia is important. Russian lessons of a costly war in Chechnya and the resulting defeat of Jihadist militants groups are key to gaining more understanding of Syrian rationale in dealing with entrenched and oftentimes elusive militant groups. Additionally, the Soviet era military hardware has had many opportunities to present it’s defects as well as advantages.
The Syrian Air Force inventory includes aging but reliable Sukhoi combat jets.
The Syrian Air Force inventory includes aging but reliable Sukhoi combat jets.
The Syrian army, ill-prepared for an asymmetrical, foreign equipped and funded militant onslaught, has proved remarkably resilient. Despite crucial military hardware being of age, the reliable nature of vehicles and aircraft coupled with well trained personnel has enabled the Syrian armed forces to turn strategy into success. Indeed, the Western media narrative has performed a stunning u-turn of army having it’s days numbered, having it’s back broken with defections and close to collapse. Absent from the reporting of Western media outlets, often quoting alleged experts, is accurate reports of the Syrian army’s doctrinal order of battle – living up to the reputation of one of the best trained and equipped army’s in the region.
Worth considering also, is the army’s breaking of two much reported sieges of Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya outside Maarat al-Numan in mid-April. Airdrops to the installations were naturally discontinued, allowing greater employment of airpower to other important flashpoints.
President Hafez al-Assad’s emphasis on the maintenance of a well disciplined and competent military have survived. Calibrated with Russian lessons of the Chechnya conflict and Hezbollah’s combat experience, effectiveness and asymmetrical tactics, the Syrian army is living up to it’s reputation as a logistically and cohesive force.



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