How ISIS was able to launch a counterattack around Sukhnah
On the 28th of September, the Caliph of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al Baghdadi released a new speech where he, among other things, urged his fighters to not give up the fight and to go on the offensive. 1 day later, seemingly out of nowhere, forces of the Islamic State went on the offensive and took several points near Sukhnah and cutting the M20 highway. 6 days later they had briefly besieged the city for several hours before a concentrated armored force was able to break through. The offensive, named after the now deceased spokesperson of the Islamic State Abu Mohammad al-Adnani is currently still ongoing but as of this writing no new points have been gained by ISIS in 24 hours. The question now is: how did they do it?
Throughout the Syrian Government’s push to break the siege on the city of Deir ez Zor, the Islamic State was able to harass them constantly even though Russian and Syrian air assets were constantly in play. ISIS is very experienced in the desert and it was only towards the end of the conflict that the units on the front line learned how to counter their tricks. ISIS relies on mobility to harass enemy positions and utilize mechanized strike groups; the only group in Syria to do so. A typical grouping is anywhere between around 3-7 vehicles. It is common to see around 5. Each group has at least one pickup-mounted ZSU-23-2 23mm anti-aircraft gun, an uparmored car loaded with around 6 fighters, and commonly one pickup-mounted KPV 14.5 heavy machine gun. The uparmored car(s) have fighters who commonly have an ATGM team (usually using Kornets, Metis’ or Fagots) with 2 or 3 missiles and several regular fighters equipped with various AK models and M16A4s as well as PKMs. What would happen is that a truck with a ZSU-23-2 or KPV would park up on a hill around 2-3 kilometers away, fire a few bursts, and then relocate to a new position. Meanwhile on another hill the infantry were being dropped off along with an ATGM team. The enemy would focus on the location of the technicals while the ATGM team was set up. The ATGM would then be used against a vehicle. Order of priority is as follows: T-72, T-62, T-55, BMP-1, Technical. These tactics would remain much the same aside from storming operations which were effectively “smash and dash”. They storm a position, break as much equipment as they can, take what they can, and then get out as quickly as possible.
But the Adnani offensive is different, this offensive aims to retake land and hold it. Daesh has utilized their elite forces for this task and have targeted the weak underbelly of the Syrian Government. The major defenders of the area around Sukhnah are NDF militia and the Imam al Ali Brigades. NDF are a militia, they have very very inexperienced fighters and are given older equipment. The Imam al Ali Brigades are from Iraq and is notorious for having horrendous leadership. The Russian and Syrian air force are heavily involved with bombing rebels in Hama and Idlib as well as battles along the Euphrates, and the only tanks stopping them were T-55s manned by NDF forces. ISIS used first captured SAA vehicles and uniforms, along with Syrian fighters to infiltrate NDF positions and even set up checkpoints of their own, where they were able to ambush and slaughter several groups of Syrian troops headed to the front lines. They then moved quickly, seizing hills and firing upon NDF and Imam al Ali positions with their 23mm guns. Accurate fire led to many of these ill-led and ill-trained groups to flee shortly. If that failed, they targeted tanks, which as evidenced by a video that came out yesterday shatters moral and leads to the entire group routing. They then sent in their up-armored cars filled with fighters to storm points and chase down fleeing forces. ISIS use their shock to propel them forward and do not stop the advance despite casualties. The last count of KIA for both sides was from 2 days ago. With 197 pro-government soldiers being killed and 188 ISIS killed, which is a lot for the government, but unsustainable by ISIS. While taking positions around the town, ISIS shelled the road from Arak to prevent reinforcements arriving.
Ultimately, it is time to wait and see what happens next. ISIS will have a hard time resupplying and will have to survive off of what they captured in the desert, which was admittedly a lot. A full analysis of ISIS gains will be available when they inevitably release a video around this offensive. Time will tell us what this daring attack by a group losing on all fronts has achieved, and how much it will delay the inevitable.