On the heels of victory in Aleppo, government forces have suffered a significant defeat in the eastern desert of Syria after losing the city of Tadmur and the ancient ruins of Palmyra to the Islamic State. Recaptured in the spring of 2016, the city was secure under the protection of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) for some time, however a major IS offensive broke government defenses and sent both SAA and National Defense Force (NDF) militiamen running.
Prior to the start of the offensive, Russian military officials withdrew most of their equipment and all of their personnel from Tadmur and the vicinity. Previously, the RuAF had operated helicopters out of T4 Airbase with the intention of supporting local SAA regiments fighting in the desert. Beginning on December 10th, IS units launched a furious assault on SAA positions north and east of Tadmur, routing the SAA. Soldiers abandoned dozens of technicals, BMPs, and supply trucks as they fled towards the city.
Defenses on the high ground surrounding Tadmur, including the battalions on Jabal al-Tar and Jabal Hayyal, collapsed quickly and only a single Iraqi brigade remained in the city to stall the total collapse of Tadmur. The brigade’s sacrifices allowed thousands of civilians to escape, but they were eventually forced to retreat too and in the afternoon of the 11th IS claimed Tadmur as their own once again. Victorious fighters posed among the ancient ruins and showcased a wealth of captured vehicles: T-62s, T-72s, BMP-1s, and Russian military equipment as well.
Government soldiers were routed all the way to the T4 Airbase, where they finally cobbled together enough fighters to make a stand. Although IS captured Tiyas village and the SAM battalions surrounding the airbase, three assaults were not enough to breach the airbase’s heavy fortifications, and the arrival of additional Iraqi militiamen allowed the government to halt an attempt by IS to encircle and cut off the airbase. Despite this minor setback, IS has achieved a great deal with the fall of Tadmur. Dozens of vehicles have been captured, along with dozens of tonnes of ammunition and various military supplies; casualties have been relatively low, and they are now in control of Maher and Sha’er gas fields once more. T4 Airbase may still fall to future IS offensives, and months of progress by the government in the region has been undone in mere days.