The Syrian Arab Army is preparing to launch its long-awaited Operation Damascus Steel in the Eastern Ghouta. The operation’s goal is to capture entire militant-held pocket (+100 km²) and to secure the Syrian capital and the Damascus-Homs highway (M5).
Right now, Damascus is under a constrant threat of shelling by Tahrir Al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army and other militant groups.
A success in Eastern Ghouta will also allow to free a large number of SAA troops for further operations against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the province of Idlib.
The advance in Eastern Ghouta will be spearheaded by the SAA’s Tiger Forces, the Republican Guard, the 14th Division (SF) and the 4th Armoured Division (Ghiath Forces – 42nd Brigade).
These units will be backed by the National Defense Forces, Tribal Forces and Galilee Forces. According to reports these factions will be mainly involved in defensive operations and fortification tasks. The 1st Armored Division, the 7th Mechanized Division and the 9th Armoured Division have also sent reinforcements to the area.
In total, the operation will involve 10,000 – 15,000 pro-government fighters, backed by the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aeroosapce Forces.
On the other hand, Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar Al-Sham, Tahrir Al-Sham and Faylaq Al-Rahman have been involved in a series of internal tensions since the middle of 2017. The new SAA operation in Eastern Ghouta will likely force them to unite efforts against the Syrian government and its allies.
There are a high urban density, a large number of underground tunnels and many fortified sites of militants in the western part of Eastern Ghouta. On the other hand, the eastern part of the pocket is mostly a farm land.
Most likely, the SAA and its allies will make an attempt to isolate the urban area from Jobar to Duma. If government forces seek to do this, they will have to capture the farm lands controlled by Jash al-Islam.
However, this does not exclude possible attacks on the western front, especially if militants send reinforcements to the eastern part of the pocket. The SAA may use its advantage in manpower and firepower to open a new front against militants and to use their lack of the coordination.
According to reports, government forces will attempt to divide the militant-held area into few spearated parts and to force local groups of militants to reconcile with the government one by one. The similar strategy was used during the Battle of Qaboun in 2017.