On January 26, ISIS launched a large-scale attack on the government supply line to the city of Aleppo – the Khanaser-Aleppo highway, aiming to cut off supplies to the government-held city. The Syrian army and the National Defense Forces (NDF), backed up by Russian warplanes, repelled the attack, but the incident clearly showed that this vital supply line was still vulnerable for attacks from ISIS (from the eastern direction) and the so-called “moderate opposition” (from the western direction).
There are few reasons why government forces are unable to prevent such attacks:
- The Syrian army and its allies don’t have enough manpower to defend the whole road. They use check points to “keep it safe”. However, troops at these check points are not able to repel any significant advance from jihadists;
- This means that militants are able to move forward until government forces send reinforcements to the area of attack;
- This government strategy allows militants to maneuver, keeping a military pressure on government forces in various hot points along the road.
In this case, the only solution to secure the whole road is to move a frontline, expanding significantly a buffer zone along the road. This is hardly possible while the Syrian army is deeply involved in operations against ISIS near Palmyra and in Deir Ezzor.
However, the ongoing government operation south of al-Bab is likely a pretext to the widely expected effort to secure the Khanaser-Aleppo road.