As of 1800 hours Damascus time on 5/23/16, Syrian government forces backed by Iraqi militiamen have regained most of the critical Sha’er Gas Field from ISIS forces. The fighting has been fairly slow and advances have been stymied by IEDs planted by retreating Islamic State fighters, but over the past couple of days most checkpoints have been restored to government control.
Sha’er Gas Field, one of the largest subterranean natural gas reserves in Syria, was seized by ISIS forces on May 6th during a blitzkrieg offensive that threw bewildered SAA defenders back and threatened to capture the important T4 Airbase west of Tadmur city. Fighting never reached the airbase, however, and the SAA was able to regroup, cut their losses, and go on a counteroffensive as ISIS fighters gathered their captured loot and ammunition and began slowly retreating. The SAA quickly recaptured Maher Gas Field, another natural gas source close to Sha’er, and then started focusing their efforts on Sha’er.
Although the past twenty-four hours have been fairly quiet, the SAA has been steadily regaining control over multiple checkpoints throughout the gas field, aided by air support from the RuAF and ground support from various Iraqi militias, including Liwa Allah Assad and Harakat al-Nujaba. Despite their successes, the government was unable to prevent ISIS elements from sabotaging wellheads and pumping infrastructure with explosives, which caused immense damage to the gas field’s production capabilities. Although this infrastructure can be rebuilt, it will take several months to bring the gas field back up to full speed, and rebuilding efforts may be threatened by future ISIS offensives.