Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ISIS in Syria is getting close to recapturing Palmyra.

Syrian Army troops ride a tank near Palmyra. AFP.

A new offensive by ISIS is threatening to recapture the city of Palmyra. AFP. ISIS fighters have cut off a main supply route to the city. ISIS and the Syrian regime have been fighting in the desert near the city, but ISIS has been having success lately. They have also taken the Shaer gas fields to the northwest of Palmyra. ISIS is now just 6 miles from the city and have surrounded it on all sides except for the southwest. No fighting has been reported in the city itself, but the city is in danger of falling under siege if they cannot keep their supply lines open. The battle comes on the heels of unrest and fresh battles in Aleppo, where a US and Russian backed truce is falling apart. 

My Comment:
I thought I would cover this story instead of the bombings in Baghdad this morning because I thought this would fall through the cracks. Though the Baghdad story is important, it is not as important as the Syrian regime having their advances in the region reversed. Plus the story is still breaking and there isn't much information at this point. I may cover it this evening.

As for Syria, it seems clear that the regime is on the verge of losing Palmyra again. They are in danger of being surrounded and looking at a current map of who controls what it's easy to see why. It's clear to me that the Syrian regime allowed a rather large salient to form and Palmyra is right in the middle of that salient. ISIS controls the territory to the north, east and south of the city so it wasn't too surprising that they would attack where they have attacked. 

It seems that the regime didn't follow up their success in Palmyra and attack the areas ISIS controls to the north and south of the city. Taking back Qaryatayn seemed to have helped their situation a little but the fact remains that they probably should have continued their offensive to the south and north of Palmyra and not further east. As it stands right now the units in and around Palmyra are dangerously exposed and are in real danger of being cut off. 

The way I see it the regime has a few options. First they could pull out of the city. That would be a huge blow to morale and would also be an international embarrassment. The regime and their Russian allies paid a heavy price to take Palmyra, so giving it up without much of a fight would be unthinkable. 

But it might be the better option then staying and fighting. If they do stay and they are cut off they either have to settle in for a long siege, like they have done in Dier ez Zor, or try to break out. Either way they may lose the city along with a large number of troops. Pulling out would be a blow to morale but a siege or a breakout would be even worse. Especially if they fail and ISIS manages to capture the city and destroy any units stationed their. 

The best option is to counterattack and defeat ISIS before they manage to cut off Palmyra completely. Can the regime do so? A few weeks ago I would have said yes, but now I am not so sure. The regime lost their major advantage in that the peace deal was still holding. Right now it seems like the peace deal in Aleppo is falling apart and may have caused the regime and the Russians to shift their efforts around. 

Indeed, I predicted that this could happen if the truce deal fell apart. Though it hasn't fallen apart completely, the situation in Aleppo is bad enough that it distracted the regime from their offensive. That gave ISIS time to plan their own offensive, which seems to be succeeding for the moment. It's just amazing to me that this is the case since just a few weeks ago I was thinking that there was a decent chance that the regime would be driving to either Raqqa or Dier ez Zor. 

Once again, I have to say that the reports that ISIS has been defeated and are on the downswing are very premature. This is the second major offensive that ISIS has conducted in the past couple of weeks. In Iraq they also launched attacks north of Mosul that managed to kill a US Navy Seal and was only stopped due to the efforts of the Kurdish Peshmerga and withering airstrikes from the United States. And that's not even counting the major bombings launched today in Baghdad. 

And I am also thinking that air power doesn't have as much as an effect as we once thought. Overestimating the power of airstrikes seems to be an universal mistake so it isn't surprising that I made it as well. Sure US airstrikes blunted the attack in Iraq but it didn't prevent it in the first place. And it seem that the presence of Russian jets in the battle near Palmyra didn't turn the tide completely yet either...

It is also disturbing to me that the offensives aimed at recapturing the de-facto capitals of ISIS, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, have failed. It looks like the Syrians are on the verge of losing everything they have gained and the Iraqis are also barely hanging on. The fight against ISIS isn't anywhere near over... 

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