The Al-Masdar news agency – possibly the single most reliable news outlet covering the Syrian war, with seemingly extensive contacts inside the Syrian army – has just reported that the Syrian army has broken through the last hill top defence lines before the ISIS held town of Al-Sukhnah.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), led by the 5th Assault Corps, and other pro-government combat outfits have burst open the last feasible defensive line that ISIS has before the strategic town of al-Sukhnah.
After capturing a number of key points and hilltops earlier today, the SAA and its allies continued their advance, taking new points and a series of important hilltops north of Al-Hayl gas field to a distance of 4 kilometers.
In particular, the mountain chain the SAA has just entered into possesses the very last series of hilltops within a great tangle of mountain chains that stretches all the way back to Palmyra. Ironically, the rough Arabic translation for the name (rather be it an expression) of this last mountain chain before al-Sukhnah is “the end of the Palmyra chain hills.”
These last aforementioned hilltops are extremely important insofar as their capture will give pro-government forces total fire control over al-Sukhnah.
This reality alone will likely push ISIS to withdraw from the town instead of fighting the SAA under conditions in which the terrorist group’s forces will be completely annihilated.
Thus, after a slow advance over past week and suffering relatively high casualties, the SAA has finally been able to breach the Islamic State’s most pivotal defensive line in the area around al-Sukhnah and advance into the last strategic terrain before the town itself.
Now al-Sukhnah’s liberation is within sight and pro-government forces could reach the gates of the town, or even take it back from ISIS completely, within a single week now.
This is momentous news. Al-Sukhnah is the last important ISIS held city on the road from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor. If Al-Sukhnah is liberated over the course of the next week then the Syrian army’s advance towards Deir Ezzor will accelerate as it takes place over more open and less defendable country, bringing ISIS’s siege of that heroically defended city within sight.
That ISIS senses that the Syrian army may now be just weeks away from ending the siege of Deir Ezzor is suggested by the release by ISIS’s ‘news agency’ Amaq of a 50 minute long video which blames other Jihadi groups for the failure to capture Deir Ezzor. Though the video was apparently made as long ago as 2014, Amaq’s decision to release it now suggests that the ground is being prepared for an announcement of a retreat by ISIS from Deir Ezzor, with blame for the defeat being placed on other Jihadi groups.
As always with ISIS videos I will not provide a link, but anyone interested in watching the video (which is not to be viewed by the fainthearted) can find a link on Al-Masdar’s website.
The liberation of Al-Sukhnah and the pending relief of Deir Ezzor has a twofold significance:
Firstly, it is widely known though rarely stated that there is a race underway between the Kurds and the US on the one hand, and the Syrians and the Russians on the other, as to who will achieve their primary objective in Syria first: to capture of Raqqa in the case of the Kurds and the US; or to relieve Deir Ezzor in the case of the Syrians and the Russians.
If the Syrians and the Russians reach Deir Ezzor first, then that will be further proof that it is they who are the victors in the Syrian war.
Secondly, it is generally acknowledged that ISIS has been redeploying more and more of its fighters to the Deir Ezzor area and that its leadership – possibly including its ‘Caliph’ Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi if he is still alive – has relocated there.
If the Syrian army arrives there, then it will fall to the Syrian army to deal the death blow to ISIS, and to bring its phoney ‘Caliphate’ to an end.
Suffice to say that if Al-Sukhnah fall within the next week or so then the defeat of ISIS in Syria, and potentially the end of the Syrian war, will indeed be within sight.