The huge international attention devoted to the US missile strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base has drawn attention away from the continuing progress of the Syrian army in the war in Syria.
The missile strike has had no significant effect on the Syrian military’s operations. Though the war continues to be bitterly fought, and though the Syrian army is occasionally forced onto the retreat – as for example happened yesterday in the southern Syrian town of Daraa – overall the pattern established since the start of the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015 of steady incremental advances by the Syrian army on multiple fronts continues.
Latest reports suggest that the Syrian troops besieged by ISIS in the eastern desert town of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border have finally achieved significant gains against ISIS, and may be finally close to reopening links between the town and the town’s airport, which were severed by ISIS in January. Importantly it seems that the Syrian troops have been able to achieve these gains in part because of heavy air support by the Russian and Syrian air forces, with some at least of the Syrian aircraft reportedly flying from Al-Shayrat air base – the same air base which was the target of the US missile strike.
Elsewhere the Syrian military is reported to have recaptured the town of Souran in northern Hama province, reversing all the gains made by the Al-Qaeda Jihadis since they launched a major offensive in the area on 21st March 2017. The Syrian air strike on Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April 2017, which allegedly included the chemical weapons attack on that town, was carried out to support the Syrian military’s counter-attack in precisely this area. The US missile strike on Al-Shayrat air base does not seem to have delayed or affected the counter-attack in any discernible way.
The war in Syria is far from over. Months and possibly even years of hard fighting still lie ahead. In addition there is the huge complicating factor of the presence of US and Turkish troops on Syrian territory in north east Syria, which is bound to complicate any political settlement.
However the overall direction of the war is clear. Despite occasional setbacks the Syrian army has successfully regained control of all the heavily populated core areas of Syria along Syria’s western coast. Though Al-Qaeda retains control of Idlib province in Syria’s north west, and ISIS retains an increasingly fragile hold over much of eastern Syria, these areas though dimensionally large are poor and sparsely populated. As the Syrian military clears the remaining Jihadi fighters from the populated areas near the coast, and as the Syrian government consolidates its political control over these areas, the scene is set for further advances against the Jihadi holdout areas in Idlib province and in the desert regions of Syria’s east, with the eventual outcome being the reassertion of the Syrian government’s control over the whole of Syria.
The only thing that now seems capable of reversing this trend would be a massive military intervention by the US. That would risk a head-on clash with Russia, and has been categorically ruled out by the Trump administration, including by President Trump himself. Provided that holds, the final outcome of the Syrian war is no longer in doubt, and odd pinprick raids like the US missile raid on Al-Shayrat air base cannot change it.