Jan. 5: In Syria, Loyalist Forces Push South
As the Russians and Iranians ramped up their support for the Syrian government over the last three months of 2015, they focused on counterattacking the largely Islamist rebel forces in northern Syria. However, during the past week the Syrian loyalist forces, with significant aid from their allies, have begun major operations in southern Syria, particularly in Daraa and Quneitra provinces.
The new loyalist offensives in the south focus on Sheikh Miskin, a strategically located crossroads town located just west of the M5 highway. Rebels successfully seized the town in January 2015 and from there have continued to seriously threaten the loyalists’ narrow logistical corridor that runs from Damascus to the their embattled forces in Daraa city.
The initial loyalist offensive managed to retake the northern parts of the town and its outlying bases, but a rebel counterattack led to difficult urban fighting and continuous back-and-forth advances by both sides. The loyalists have lost a considerable number of tanks and vehicles in the town but have also inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels with their heavy artillery and airstrikes. There is also a loyalist effort to reach the town of Nawa, located west of Sheikh Miskin.
The battle also involves an expanded Russian air campaign that is targeting the Free Syrian Army Southern Front. This breaks the alleged accord, which has largely held until now, between the Russians and the Jordanians to avoid increasing attacks on their preferred proxies. With loyalist offensives currently taking place in both northern and southern Syria, the Syrian government is rallying once again after its recent losses. However, the intensification in fighting is undermining the international effort to push through the cease-fire that was originally planned for this month.