Kweires airbase siege lifted in Northern Syria. This was the longest siege of the Syrian war so far: 300 soldiers and their relatives were trapped inside the Kweires airbase since December 2012. They were first cut off as Al-Nusra forces overran the North of the country. Those Al-Nusra forces were then replaced by ISIS forces as ISIS expended Westward.
As soon as the Russian air campaign started in Syria, it was clear what the objectives of the SAA counter-attack were going to be: Securing Damascus, Homs , Hama and the road going from Damascus to Aleppo (Highway 5 crossing Homs and Hama along the way).
The real prize being Aleppo: The second biggest city in Syria and its economic powerhouse. The relief of Kweires airbase was also on the cards and it was as ambitious as it was dangerous and also highly symbolic.
It took the elite “Cheetah force” part of the elite “Tiger Force” of the SAA alongside reservist units and volunteer militias around a month to advance through the desert and fight its way toward the Kweires airport. It took them 2 days to advance through the last 2 kilometres of ISIS held territory and break the siege.
A week prior to that, they were 5 kilometres away. So one can say progress was slow but one look at the map shows why it was so: The Damascus forces had to advance through enemy territory and hostile terrain and secure their flanks as they were doing so to avoid being cut off from their starting point.
The death toll for the SAA for this offensive is 57 KIA and around 200 WIA. (For the last day of the offensive) It is still unknown if the Loyalist forces are going to try and hold that position or evacuate it and abandon it but looking at the map, holding it could be a tempting option for Damascus.
While it would be costly in terms of manpower and hardware to hold that corridor, it could prove to be a real thorn in ISIS’s flank, forcing them to stretch their supply lines around it to keep their lifeline to Aleppo opened.
From this position, the SAA could be in a position to make the junction with the Kurdish forces in the North and cut off the ISIS forces in Aleppo from their capital Raqqa and effectively severing their supply line all together.
Looking at the videos of the last assault on Kweires, what was very obvious was the change in tactics within the SAA. Up until now, the Syrian Arab Army had gotten us used to watch armour advancing through towns unsupported by infantry, or infantry attempting to advance in the open without any kind of support whatsoever. The different arms of the Syrian army did not really cooperate efficiently if at all. The videos from yesterday show a real combined arms offensive.
You had infantry, tanks and APC’s advancing together with artillery support while being under the umbrella of the Russian air force that was present overhead, pummelling anything that moved ahead of the advancing Syrian troops. The SAA had definitely been advised ahead of the assault and Moscow and Tehran definitely had a hand at helping shape up the battleplan.
What is Damascus next move going to be? Well, for a start, The whole Tiger force is bound to be redeployed between Homs and Hama asap to stop the Al-Nusra offensive there centred around the town of Morek.
The Al-Nusra offensive in Morek was possible as most of the SAA elite troops were deployed south of Damascus for the battles of Damascus and Daraa (Both still ongoing, interestingly, one of the elite Republican guard unit fighting in Damascus is an all female outfit), around Aleppo (City now almost entirely surrounded by SAA, battle still ongoing) and near Kweires. So the line East of Hama was only defended by reserve troops and unseasoned outfits. Al-Nusra in Morek controls the important highway 5 which is the main supply line of the SAA fighting in Aleppo.
As for the fight for Aleppo itself, it is bound to be bloody and long. The SAA is gaining on the rebels but the battle has gotten to a stage where most of the fighting is taking place in urban areas, street by street.