- Putin Gives Assad mid-Nov. deadline for results with Aleppo offensive and that the Russian airstrikes weren’t “indefinite.”
- Syrian Rebels gaining some ground and pro-Assad forces suffering supply shortages and taking casualties – most notably IRGC commander Hamedani causing low morale.
- Lack of coordination and competition between IRGC-Qods Force, Hezbollah, SAA and Russian Army causing problems
- In spite of ops in Ukraine and Syria causing logistical strain on Russia, no sign of opening another air base.
- Russia’s plan to take Aleppo, forcing a negotiated settlement and then turning attention to hitting ISIS is not going well and the Sinai plane bombing has just made everything more complicated.
- Russian propaganda aside, can you say “Quagmire”?
The ISIS Study Group, Nov. 7, 2015:
In late-OCT Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow. Although it was called a “working visit” and the Assad regime did confirm three meetings were held, most people in the international press were caught up with this being Assad’s first visit in a few years. However, something rather important occurred during this visit – Vlad put Assad on notice. Assad was informed by Vlad that he’s expecting results from the Aleppo offensive by mid-NOV since he has Russian military support. That’s mid-NOV as in starting next week. He also told Assad that the Russian airstrikes weren’t “indefinite.”
Syria’s Assad in surprise visit to Moscow
Indeed this is a bit of a departure from what Vlad told Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia (“No End in Sight in Fighting on the Arabian Peninsula Front”), but we see it as more of our favorite KGB officer beginning to feel a greater sense of urgency. Basil al-Asad Airbase is operating at full capacity and our sources in Syria have informed us that there are no plans to open up other airbases to expand Russia’s logistical footprint – which is going to come back to haunt them. The ongoing offensive in Aleppo that we discussed in “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention” has become the new priority for the pro-regime forces looking for a “big win.” The problem with this is it means resources and personnel involved in the operations occurring in Northwest Syria are being redirected. Despite the Russian military support and diverting of resources and personnel to the Aleppo front, the offensive has stalled.
No End in Sight in Fighting on the Arabian Peninsula Front
On Thursday the al-Qaida-flavored Jund al-Aqsa seized control of the Hama Province town of Morek. That town was the last SAA garrison along the main highway between Aleppo and Hama. This was a particularly important event since the anti-Assad factions now have control of a major line of communication from which reinforcements and supplies can be sent to support operations in Idlib and Aleppo. We’ve been covering this multi-pronged pro-regime offensive to retake Aleppo, Idlib, and Russia’s involvement in it from the start (“Russia Supports New Syrian Offensive and Begins Prepping For Russian Ground OPs” and “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention”). In those articles we discussed the first indicators of things not exactly going as well as Russian propagandists are spinning them out to be. Although its true that pro-regime forces retook multiple villages South of Aleppo, they sustained heavy losses in doing so.
Syria jihadists capture regime town along vital road
Russia Supports New Syrian Offensive and Begins Prepping For Russian Ground OPs
Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention
BG Hamedani in his best pic yet
Source: The ISIS Study Group
The IRGC continues to play a large role on the ground on the Aleppo front, although they haven’t been able to recover (yet) from the death of IRGC BG Hossein Hamedani (Reference – “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention”). The combined pro-regime forces were already having problems coordinating/prioritizing lines of effort, but BG Hamedani’s death made the situation worse. As of this writing the vast majority of the pro-regime forces are suffering from low-morale and supply shortages that are compounded by that failure to prioritize and coordinate operations – which is why the current Aleppo campaign is stalling. Such problems have watered down all the airstrikes and fire support, so it really shouldn’t surprise anybody that the ground forces are having a hard time seizing and holding territory.
A big indicator of these problems in coordination operations can be seen in the anti-Assad factions’ adapting to the Russian airstrikes that aren’t necessarily being reported up by the guys on the ground. The reason has more to do with personal pride and an overall pissing contest between the officers of the IRGC-Qods Force, Hezbollah, SAA and Russian Army. The establishment of joint-coordination centers have helped some, but thus far it appears to have been the most successful in better stream-lining logistical operations. The reason for the lackluster improvement has to do with the Russian military continuing to maintain their own C2 separate from the SAA, IRGC and Hezbollah. The Russians manage sorties and use embedded LNOs to process strike requests – which chews up a lot of time that the guys on the ground probably don’t have the luxury of wasting. As one would guess, this has only led to increased tensions between the Russians and the Qods Force – who don’t believe they need Vlad’s boys beat down the anti-Assad factions (Gee, that sure looks like a great opportunity for some IO messaging there, CENTCOM – HINT, HINT).
al-Nusra fighters in the Southern part of Aleppo
Source: al-Nusra Media Office
The Islamic State (IS) had severed some of the primary supply lines (such as the Khanaser Road) linking support hubs to the Aleppo front. Although the Assad regime is trumpeting its “victory” in regaining control of the Khanaser Road, they had to reallocate units to reopen the line of communication (LOC) just to sustain the offensive. Unfortunately, that also meant losing considerable momentum in other, more critical areas on the front. Assad’s forces were stretched even further when they were forced to eject IS from an oilfield near Hama. Another issue the SAA is running into is the increasing reliance on militias such as the Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) as a result of manpower shortages. The problem with relying on the militias is that they’re very hit or miss. Not all of the militias are as capable as Hezbollah, Badr Organization, Kitaib Hezbollah (KH) or Asaib al-Haq (AAH). As a result, the Russian ground force mix of Spetsnaz and conventional troops are seeing more action. Most of their operations (the conventional guys anyways) are centered around convoy security in the Ghab Valley, although their Naval Infantry guys are conducting more small-unit operations at the company-level and lower. The Spetsnaz continue to due their counter-terror raids in conjunction with the Qods Force, although neither side appears to be particularly thrilled with having to “share” responsibilities. Those Russian ground troops have already sustained 10 KIA and another 24 WIA (again, a great opportunity for an IO campaign for the US to regain the initiative – assuming anybody in the Pentagon still has their balls).
Syrian Government Forces Regain Key Aleppo Supply Route
Syrian Regime Makes Gains For Aleppo Supply Lines, Uniting ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syrian Rebels
Syrian army, allied Hezbollah militia expel ISIS from key oilfield near Hama
Hollow Victory: The pro-regime forces threw a great deal of time and personnel – their most precious resource – at retaking this piece of real estate
Source: George Ourfalian (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
The big problem Vlad is going to face if this war extends beyond 6 months (which we don’t see any end in the foreseeable future) is the strain on the Russian military’s logisitical capabilities. Sure, the talking heads in the media point to Russia’s vast numbers, but what they fail to realize is that Russia’s military is a conscript force – and one that doesn’t have the highest morale. They also overlook the fact that despite the Russian military’s size, they have a hard time providing logistical support to it on campaigns. Russia was beginning to struggle with providing support to the limited presence it has in Ukraine, so what do you think is going to happen in Syria, or Iraq for that matter (should they expand there)? The biggest sign of strain to Russia’s airlift capabilities will be felt in the ordnance-area, in a few months we’ll know why the airstrikes will begin to decline. This is why we find Russia’s decision not to open up another airbase to alleviate the strain placed on Basil al-Assad Airbase (which is currently operating at full capacity) so interesting. The implied task, therefore, would be to use more sealift transport. The problem with that is the Russian Naval base in Tartus may not have the infrastructure to expand that capability. Ultimately, this will lead to a lag in support operations.
So what’s next? With all the resources being thrown into this multi-pronged Syrian offensive with so little in results, Vlad is going to be forced to either invest even more in the regional war by expanding Russia’s military intervention, or lower the bar of what constitutes “success.” Vlad’s original plan was to push for a “big win” in Aleppo to use as a means of forcing the so-called “moderates” into a negotiated settlement on terms favorable to Assad. Once that happens, the combined pro-regime forces would turn their complete attention to IS. However, the bombing of a Russian airliner in Sinai changed all that (Check out “Sinai Plane Crash Update” and “Amplifying Details on the Sinai Plane Bombing and the Egypt-Libya Nexus” for more details). If anything, Vlad almost has to expand his military’s involvement in Syria if nothing else but to continue to push the narrative that he’s the “ironman” of the international community – and the “anti-Obama.” Thing is, by getting more involved in this regional war, Vlad will run the risk of falling into the same trap that his predecessors did in Afghanistan. Vlad may fill the leadership void left by the US government, but all its going to do is increase recruitment to Baghdadi’s cause. Jihadists may hate America, but they have a very special hatred for Russians. As much as the Rand Paul fanboys are excited about the possibility of somebody else carrying the load, region will become much more unstable because of it. This is going to affect both the West and the Russians. Keep in mind that although Russia prefers a more draconian strategy of laying waste to entire populations, that philosophy didn’t particularly work out in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Ingushtia or Dagestan. So welcome to the meat-grinder Vlad – sucks, don’t it?
Sinai Plane Crash Update
Amplifying Details on the Sinai Plane Bombing and the Egypt-Libya Nexus
Source: The ISIS Study Group
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Russia Poised to Increase Military Presence in Middle East in Response to Islamic State’s Strength