Syria: updates on events from around the country (Feb 5 – Feb 12)

Ar-Raqqa: The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officially began the third phase of the military operation “Euphrates Wrath” on the 6th, advancing on and capturing the villages of Hadl, Abu Natuliyah, Bir Sa’eed, Dukhkhan, and al-Khuwayshah from forces loyal to the Islamic State (IS). The SDF continued and captured Mulayhan, Lbeidan, Khan Dahl, and Abu Wahl, and came to within 15 km of the Euphrates River by the 8th. After receiving reinforcements from the YPG, the SDF continued its offensive, capturing Mahran on the 9th and pushing further to Shanina, Jisr Shanina, and Tall Mahlas on the 10th before stopping just 5 km out from the outskirts of ar-Raqqa, putting their forces within sight of the city.

Farther to the west, SDF and YPG units together repelled a major IS offensive on Suwaydiyah al-Kabirah and pushed marginally closer to ar-Raqqa, aided by Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition aircraft. Progress on the western front has been somewhat slower, for reasons unclear to outside observers.

This week, Coalition Special Operations Forces (SOF) fighters from multiple state militaries have been spotted at least twice; a French SOF team operating a Javelin missile launcher were seen during fighting north of Lbeidan, and vehicles potentially belonging to British SOF were spotted during deployment before the advance on Khan Dahl and Abu Wahl. Although Coalition forces on the ground have been attempting to keep a low profile due to the nature of their work, video and photo evidence have been provided that makes their presence clear.

Aleppo: Capitalizing on their successful offensive that occurred the previous week, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and local allies launched fresh attacks on IS positions south of the city of al-Bab, which has been under pressure from Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces since December. After heavy bombardment, the SAA seized Ayashia village after securing the town of Aran on the 5th. Control of Ayashia and the nearby high ground effectively put the city under complete siege, as the last supply route to IS-controlled territory was cut off.

On the 6th, Ayashia was fully secured by the SAA, although they had to retreat from several checkpoints northeast of the village, giving IS some breathing room to reinforce and resupply their fighters in the city. Another TFSA attack on Bzaah was repelled with significant casualties, and IS counterattacked to the west of the city and recaptured the village of Shawamiyah, previously taken by Ahrar al-Sham and elements allied to them. On the 7th, the SAA captured the small hamlet of Birat al-Bab directly south of the city, and began shelling Tadef, one of al-Bab’s larger suburbs. Although IS fighters managed to infiltrate the village in a fierce counterattack spearheaded by SVBIEDs, they were later repelled as government forces rushed reinforcements to the frontline and threw them back towards Tadef.

On the 8th, following significant shelling, the Turkish army, along with FSA allies, made significant assaults on the western side of al-Bab, attempting to attack the Youth Housing Complex and the commercial real estate around the grain silos. Although the Housing Complex was briefly captured, IS recaptured it later in the day, marking the attacks as a failure.  On the 9th, the SAA advanced to the west of the village of Aran and secured Deir Qaq and Shawamiyah, the latter of which had been recaptured by IS on the 6th after fierce clashes. Mere hours after these advances, the SAA began to clash with elements of Liwa Sultan Murad and Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which occupied positions at Abu al-Zandin and the highway. The FSA rebels attempted to take more ground within the city limits of al-Bab, but were unable to push past the M4 Highway and Dalil Roundabout and resorted to firing mortars and heavy weapons at IS positions in the Youth Housing Complex and al-Bab Grain Silos.

On the 10th, after the clashes with FSA elements, the SAA returned their attention to IS and took the small hamlet of Abu Taltal, just south of Tadef, and attempted to attack the larger town without any gains. The next day, both the FSA and the SAA went on major offensives; the former attempted another attack on the western outskirts of al-Bab, this time succeeding in taking Dalil Roundabout and parts of Sheikh Aqil mountain overlooking the city. The SAA skirmished with IS on the southern outskirts of Tadef, but did not capture any parts of the town, and resorted to airstrikes to try and weaken IS defenses. Later in the day, FSA units managed to penetrate the neighborhood of Zamzam and captured Tadef roundabout, and held their positions against counterattack.

SAA Tiger Forces soldiers in the village of Birat al-Bab, February 10th.

Homs: After intense clashes with IS personnel, SAA and NDF forces in eastern Homs province continued to advance towards Hayyan Gas Plant and the Jihar gas field, assisted by airstrikes from friendly aircraft. Government soldiers seized Baydhah al-Sharqiyah and al-Majbal Asphalt Plant, and advanced to within 1 km of the damaged gas plant before stopping due to heavy resistance from entrenched IS fighters. However, intense fighting took a toll on the attackers over a period of three days, and they were forced to retreat from al-Majbal Plant and the vicinity of Hayyan Gas Plant, leaving behind several vehicles, including at least one T-62.

Farther south, IS and SAA personnel skirmished in the rural desert surrounding Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, with casualties occurring in the ranks of government soldiers.

Dimashq: Clashes between the SAA and Jaish al-Islam were continuous throughout the week, as the two groups struggled to gain the upper hand on the fronts of Hawsh Nasri and Hawsh Dawahra in the area of East Ghouta. Fighting also grew in intensity on the urban frontlines in Arbeen, with Faylaq ar-Rahman yielding ground to the SAA as the latter advanced under cover of heavy airstrikes and gained several blocks of industrial buildings. Both sides saw significant casualties in the fighting. The SAA also announced the beginning of an operation to retake the suburbs of Qaboun and Barzeh, previously occupied by elements of the FSA operating under a truce with the government. No gains have been made yet in this new operation.

Further fighting in the vicinity of al-Seen airbase was also recorded, as IS elements constantly attempted to infiltrate or outright assault SAA defenses in the area. On the 6th and 7th, IS attempted multiple assaults on the airbase, which were repelled with heavy losses from the attackers, including at least six technicals destroyed and many more captured after being abandoned by their drivers.

SAA armor, including several T-72 Adra tanks, mobilize in preparation for a new offensive on Qaboun and Barzeh, February 9th.

Deir-ez-Zor: Heavy airstrikes by Russian and Syrian aircraft gave government forces on the ground some breathing room as they attempted to reunite the two pockets of regime territory, which were split following a major IS offensive in January. The SAA advanced to within 500 meters of al-Furat university but were stopped by heavy resistance, but SAA forces were able to repel several attacks on the vicinity of the military airbase and the cemetery, and were able to receive supplies by plane after relieving pressure on the airbase. On the 10th, IS launched another attack on the vicinity of the airbase but was repelled after several hours of fighting, in which at least fifteen SAA soldiers were killed.

Hama: Until lately, the frontlines in northern Hama have been fairly quiet, following the large-scale Jund al-Aqsa offensive last year that put intense pressure on the security of Hama city. On the 7th, after weeks of quiet, infighting erupted between elements of Jund al-Aqsa and local garrisons of Jaish al-Nasr, with casualties reported on both sides. The infighting was prompted by long-simmering tensions between the two groups, which are at odds on principle. Fighting continued through the 8th and the 9th, with Jund al-Aqsa capturing several major locations from FSA-affiliated units, including Halfaya, Tayybat al-Imam, Kafr Zita, and Khan Sheikhoun. The SAA attempted to capitalize on this by launching attacks around the village of Souran, but were unable to capture ground and lost at least three technicals in fighting.

Jund al-Aqsa fighters mobilize for attacks on Jaish al-Nasr positions near Halfaya, February 7th.

Daraa: Units loyal to Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in southern Daraa province launched a major operation on Daraa city on the 12th, assaulting SAA positions in an attempt to capture al-Manshiyah neighborhood. Despite heavy fighting and the deployment of at least two SVBIEDs, the offensive collapsed within several hours, and rebel forces retreated with casualty numbers unknown.

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