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

Deir-ez-Zor: Fighting in Deir-ez-Zor was, once again, constant as elements of the Islamic State (IS) and the embattled Syrian Arab Army (SAA) defenders and their tribal allies contested one another for crucial ground south of the city. In a fierce offensive on the 6th, IS seized Tall Alloush from government troops, but it was recaptured a few hours later. Fighting around al-Banourama was also very heavy. On the 11th and the 12th IS launched new attacks on SAA positions around the airbase and inside the city, with poor weather conditions giving IS a smokescreen for their operations. At the time of publication, fierce fighting was ongoing on multiple fronts within and around the city.

Farther to the north, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Quwat al-Sanadid entered Deir-ez-Zor Governorate for the first time in late February and, after many skirmishes in the rural desert far east of Raqqa city, cut the supply road between Raqqa and the IS-held part of Deir-ez-Zor. IS retreated from Jazah and al-Kubar and yielded the crucial road to the SDF, as airstrikes from Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition aircraft aided the SDF.

FSA “Quwat al-Nokhba” allied with the SDF capture Jadidah Khabur near the Euphrates River, March 11th.

Ar-Raqqa: SDF forces continued to slowly encroach on Raqqa city with significant support from OIR coalition aircraft. Vanguard units reached the Bir Heba and Bir Dahr irrigation canals just outside of the city’s outskirts on the 5th, and by the 6th the vast majority of al-Kajla and Hamadi farms were secured by the SDF. Progress continued throughout the week as SDF units took al-Matabb, Tall Unayzah, Khas Ujayl, and Khas Dakur, advancing ever close to the Euphrates on multiple axes and killing dozens of IS fighters in the process.

Late in the night on the 9th, several videos were recorded of large convoys moving through Qamislo and into the southern countryside, with most of the vehicles unmarked but bearing everything from crates of ammunition to large artillery pieces. These convoys arrived in Syria following the promise of a renewed effort by the United States government to assist local forces on the ground in retaking Raqqa city. At least four-hundred Marines and several dozen more advisors will be deployed to SDF-occupied territory in the near future, and it is rumored than nearly a thousand more Marines along with heavy artillery and transport vehicles will also soon arrive in the northern part of Syria.

Homs: SAA units with RuAF helicopter supported destroyed four IS armed vehicles and captured a large segment of Jazal Oil Field on the 6th, capitalizing on the previous week’s gains after IS retreated from the city of Tadmur. Small advances continued with minor resistance from IS skirmishing groups.

Dimashq: Late on the night of the 5th, Jaish al-Islam forces, bloodied and low on ammunition, retreated from the groves and agricultural areas of Qaboun, yielding the territory to the SAA. Heavy bombardment followed as the government forces tightened their grip on the besieged, ruined Damascene suburb. A counterattack on the 11th spearheaded by Jaish al-Islam managed to retake some territory in the Qaboun Groves and ease the pressure on the city.

SAA 4th Division soldiers pose east of Qaboun after capturing several checkpoints, March 10th.

Daraa: After previously losing rural ground to IS, Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in the Sweida drylands launched a ferocious counterattack spearheaded by Ahrar al-Sham, which took IS forces completely by surprise. Aided by tanks and artillery, the FSA launched a two-pronged attack on the 9th against the villages of  Jadl and al-Shamarah, part of the Lajat area north of Sweida city.

Aleppo: In the East Aleppo countryside, the SAA made incredible advances against IS forces, seizing more than a dozen villages and hamlets on the 6th and racing towards the Euphrates River, having established a joint agreement with Kurdish and SDF forces to maintain and respect each other’s frontlines. The SAA operation in East Aleppo had two goals: to besiege the large town of Deir Hafer, and to restore government control of the water source for Aleppo city, which had been cut off for some time. To these ends, the SAA put incredible pressure on IS defenses, rolling them all the way back to al-Khafsah town on the 7th and capturing and securing the town and its water purification and pumping systems by the morning of the 8th. Further military operations to the south followed, as government soldiers secured almost ten nearby villages and reached the shores of the waters of the Euphrates for the first time in years. On the 9th, the SAA reached the outskirts of Jirah Military Base after seizing al-Jattalah and Qawas towns, but two assaults on the airbase failed to capture it. A counterattack by IS retook some previously lost ground as well, forcing the SAA back towards their previous battle lines at al-Khafsah and costing them significant casualties.

Clashes and skirmishes between Kurdish and TFSA forces continued despite security agreements being reached between the Syrian government and the Kurdish autonomous region. Although the Euphrates Shield forces in al-Bab were unable to continue to advance south due to being cut off by the SAA, they were able to clash with the YPG on the 6th and 7th, capturing the villages of Awlasha and Bughaz on the first day but losing the latter after a counterattack on the 7th. Clashes on the Tall Rifaat front were also reported, which resulted in injured Turkish soldiers and significant shelling. Following previous agreements between the SDF and Syrian government regarding ceasefires between the two groups, another agreement on the 7th established a “frontline cooperation zone” west of Manbij that saw several villages handed over to the SAA to prevent the TFSA from advancing towards Manbij. As American and Russian SOF battalions began showing up within Manbij proper, Syrian army units moved into the villages in the new cooperation zone and established garrisons on the frontline with the TFSA that was previously occupied by the SDF.

These measures did not prevent conflict and bloodshed, however. On the 9th, TFSA units attacked SAA border guards near Bughaz and inflicted casualties on them, but did not gain any ground in their attack. Although fighting ceased on the next day after Turkish intervention in the matter, affairs on the SAA-occupied Manbij frontline remained tense. Constant clashes around Tadef did not improve the situation, and losses were suffered by both sides in small arms skirmishes.

Jaish al-Nasr fighters clash on the Manbij front with YPG fighters for the first time in months, March 6th.
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