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Syrian army’s offensive against Islamic State: tactical success or turn of tide?

December 28, 2015, 19:33 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© Valeriy Sharifulin/TASS

MOSCOW, December 28. /TASS/. Syria’s government army largely owes its successfully proceeding offensive against Islamic State militants to a noticeably higher level of operative and tactical cooperation with the Russian air group, polled experts have told TASS.

In the last week of the outgoing year the Syrian army has been building up offensive operations in Aleppo province and the mountain part of Latakia province, where the Russian air base is located. With Russian air support President Bashar Assad’s forces have been clearing Homs province of Islamic State militants. As Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi has said, more than one thousand militants have made a decision to lay down arms and return to peaceful life. According to the reports that have been pouring in over the past few days, the militants besieged by government forces in a suburb of Damascus are being evacuated. In a southern suburb of the Syrian capital Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra militants have begun to hand over heavy and medium weapons. The operation is proceeding with assistance from the United Nations mission in Damascus and the Syrian Red Crescent.

The president of the International Center for Geopolitical Analysis, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, retired, believes that after the Russian air group has destroyed command centers, training camps and logistic facilities of the Islamic State the Syrian army has recovered to an extent. The level of operating and tactical interaction between the Russian air group and government troops has grown. "Over the past four years of war government troops were mostly retreating and letting the enemy capture large territories. These days the Syrian army has mounted offensive operations in several key directions. Effective strikes by the Russian air group contributed a great deal to that. The Syrian army is now better equipped and its morale has grown," Ivashov told TASS.

Further offensive operations by Syrian government troops will depend on what stance Turkey and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf will take, Ivashov believes. "It’s common knowledge that radical Islamism and the terrorist organizations that cropped up on its basis are a creature of Saudi Arabia and its allies. The Persian Gulf’s monarchies and Turkey provide backing for the Islamic radicals mostly because they have long hatched plans for seizing more territories, tightening their grip on the region and getting access to more oil resources," Ivashov said.

At a certain point the United States realized that the Saudi Arabia-led Sunni coalition was getting out of Washington’s control. This explains why US Secretary of State John Kerry paid the latest visit to Moscow. "Kerry told the Russian leadership that the United States was revising its attitude to the Islamic State, and that political talks over Syria’s future were crucial alongside the military efforts in the struggle against international terrorism. The UN Security Council’s December 19 resolution in support of a peace settlement of the conflict in Syria brought Russia and the West closer together. This raises the hope the turn of the tide is due soon," Ivashov believes.

An associate member of the Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences, Konstantin Sivkov, is more reserved in his comments on the results of the Syrian army’s offensive against Islamic State militants. He described it as a "tactical success, and not as a turn of the tide." For the sake of comparison he recalled one of the key battles the Soviet Union’s Red Army fought in 1944. In just two months the Nazi forces were driven out of the whole territory of Belarus — an area of 208,000 square kilometers. "The Syrian Army over the past three months has managed to recapture from the militants a mere 500 kilometers. Bashar Assad’s army will be unable to beat the terrorists without a large-scale operation on the ground," Sivkov told TASS.

"In Syria we are witnesses to a prolonged, heavy war. To provide real assistance to the government troops it is essential, alongside building up the fleet of combat aircraft in Latakia, to achieve agreement through diplomatic channels with Iran on moving 150,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guards into Syria. Iran does have the needed forces, so in combination with the Syrian and Iranian army, with support from Russia’s air group and in coordination with the US-led anti-terrorist coalition it would be possible to break the Islamic State’s backbone," Sivkov said.

And the head of the Middle Eastern Conflicts Analysis Center at the Institute of US and Canada Studies, Aleksandr Shumilin, has told TASS that the offensive potential of the Syrian army is limited and it is too early to say the war in Syria has made a U-turn. He believes that at this moment significant success has been achieved by the Iraqi forces, which have declared victory over the militants in Ramadi, one of the largest communities the Islamic State had controlled just recently.

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