Eastern desert: SAA within sight of Tabqa Air Base; stalemate in Deir-ez-Zor

6/15/16: After nearly a week of consistent advances, the SAA and allied forces are within five kilometers of Tabqa Air Base, a military installation which fell to ISIS nearly two years ago. Government forces have been gaining ground every day, taking small rural villages and covering nearly 100 kilometers in their advance towards the central stronghold of the Islamic State, ar-Raqqa.

After seizing a couple of roadside villages on the way to Tabqa, government forces defeated a significant ISIS defensive force near Resafah Junction on the 10th, forcing their enemy to retreat after the engagement. Aided by RuAF and SyAAF air power, the land forces leading the offensive pressed forward and by the 12th had completely secured Safiyah Oil Field and its adjacent pumping stations. Although they had consistently yielded ground to the army before, ISIS fighters were no longer willing to retreat from insignificant, indefensible locations as they had before. They were forced to dig in and counterattack, which has not proven particularly successful so far. The army offensive has slowed to a crawl but continues to inch closer to Tabqa, and an ISIS counteroffensive against the crucial Ithriya-Khanasser road failed miserably with 40 fighters killed. Although the government has yet to reach Tabqa, they are already hammering the airbase with rocket artillery and bombing runs.

Farther south, the SAA saw gains in rural Tadmur but suffered heavy losses in the contested city of Deir-ez-Zor. Government soldiers, aided by air support, seized the T3 Pumping Station and pushed ever closer to the town of Arak, putting ISIS on the defensive once more. Aided by Russian advisors, the SAA in Tadmur is now gaining ground once more. However, Deir-ez-Zor has become somewhat of a stalemate, as neither side is gaining an advantage and the government has sustained heavy manpower losses. Constant fighting on Tall Tharda between the 9th and 14th has seen ground change hands multiple times, and attempts by the regime to push towards Thayyem Oil Field have failed miserably. Fighting around the Division 137 Artillery base has been fierce and although an ISIS offensive on the 13th gained no ground, it resulted in heavy casualties for the government defenders. Although the state of regime defenses in Deir-ez-Zor is not yet dire, they are suffering from manpower and supply shortages and are constantly losing small tracts of ground.

SAA soldiers pose for a photo near Resafah Junction. Photo courtesy of Ivan Sidorenko.

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