Sunday, March 27, 2016

Huge defeat for ISIS! Syrian regime takes back the city of Palmyra.

Regime fighters celebrate near the ruins in Palmyra. AFP.

The Syrian regime has taken back the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS. AFP. The regime plans to use the city as a base to attack additional ISIS strongholds, including their de-facto capital of ISIS in Syria. The besieged city of Deir Ez Zor, will also be a priority target for the Syrian regime. The regime, backed by Russian airstrikes killed 400 ISIS fighters at a cost of nearly 200 regime and allied fighters killed. That number has been claimed to be ISIS's worst death toll from any battle so far. After the climax of the battle, ISIS high command ordered their fighters to abandon Palmyra. A few die hard fanatics remained in the city, and are still fighting. ISIS took over the city in May of 2015, and committed many atrocities against the city's population and the many ruins and artifacts found there. 

My Comment:
This is follow up to a post earlier this week where I pointed out that the regime had entered Palmyra. Obviously, everything I posted there is still true now, including the fact that this won't do much to stop terrorist attacks in Europe. This is a major victory though, and a huge defeat for ISIS. I'm rather happy that it turned out this way, and I congragulate the Syrians and Russians for their victory.

How huge of a victory is this? Well they lost 400 fighters in the battle at the very least. They probably had more than that injured and if there are still a few die hard fighters left in the city, both of those numbers will go up. The AFP report said that is the most troops ISIS has lost in a single battle and I think that assessment is correct. 

Contrary to popular belief, ISIS doesn't have all that many fighters in Syria and Iraq. Though the estimates of the number of ISIS troops varies wildly depending on which source you use, ISIS doesn't have nearly the number of troops that other factions in the region have. Though their numbers are bolstered by local and foreign recruits, I doubt that they can afford to lose 400+ fighters. Especially if those fighters were battle hardened and experienced. Plus there were probably dozens of fighters crippled or temporarily taken out of the fight due to injuries as well, which will also reduce the number of fighter ISIS has to use in other battles. 

This is going to be a major morale hit for ISIS. They are already reeling from the loss of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and they have also voluntarily withdrawn from central Iraq. Though they have had some victories, like yesterday's joke of a battle in Iraq, ISIS is getting pushed back hard in Syria. Indeed, the only good news for ISIS is that they are conducting so many terrorist attacks abroad and that they are still expanding in Libya. That alone isn't enough. Much of ISIS's appeal is the fact that for a long time they looked invincible. Those days seem to be long over.

Taking back Palmyra may have a domino effect on other territories under ISIS control in the region. ISIS areas to the southwest of Palmyra have now been largely cut off. ISIS fighters near Damascus and the city of Qaryatayn may have to pull back, not only to help defend other ISIS cities that are threatened, but to avoid getting caught up in a Fallujah style siege. And the capital of Raqqa and the besieged Dier Ez Zor region may come under further attack as well. 

In short, this is a huge defeat for ISIS, and by all rights the news should be even worse for them, if not for the Iraqis being incompetent in expelling ISIS from the Mosul area. It's clear to me that ISIS has lost the momentum in both Iraq and Syria, largely due to the Russian led intervention and the cease fire that is holding in Syria. 

I don't know how ISIS recovers from this. The only thing that I think could blunt the regime's momentum now is if the war starts up again with the rebels. But I think the rebels realize that its in their best interest to let the regime and their Russian allies pound the hell out of ISIS. ISIS has made an enemy of pretty much every other group in the region, so it isn't surprising that they are getting pushed back now that everyone isn't also fighting each other. Even if the war does start up again, ISIS would still be on the back foot and the momentum is clearly with the regime. 

It's important to note that the battle for Raqqa and Mosul are a long way off. Remember, fighting in both Syria and Iraq tend to fade away during the summer months. It's just too hot to fight effectively when it's 100 degrees or hotter outside. And there is still a lot of territory that ISIS holds between their enemies and these two critical cities. I just don't see either the Iraqi or Syrian regimes having that much success in such a short period of time. There is also the possibility of something crazy happening, good or bad, that could completely change the course of the war between now and then as well. 

I also want to point out that the Syrians seem to be having a much easier time of retaking territory from ISIS then the Iraqis are. Yesterday I mentioned that this is due to the fact that Syria never had it's military destroyed and dissolved and they still have a strong core of NCO's and high ranking officers. 

That's still true, but I think the way Russia is helping the Syrians is much more effective then the way the United States is helping the Syrians. Our rules of engagement are so strict that we can't always destroy ISIS fighters before they get into it with Iraqis on the ground. We are so afraid of civilian casualties, that we deliberately hold back. Russia does not seem to have nearly as much concern. Yes, a lot of civilians are dying in their bombings but if they manage to take cities a lot quicker then we are with our rules of engagement, less people in total might die. Either way though, it's clear to me that opening things up against ISIS has really helped the Syrian regime. 

Finally, I am glad that the Syrians and the Russians were able to extract a very heavy toll on ISIS in Palmyra. ISIS committed some of its most disgusting atrocities in the city, and at least 400 of them were brought to justice. Hopefully, as the battle continue, many more ISIS fighters will pay for what they have done... 

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