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Syrian War: Al-Bukamal Is Liberated. What Now?

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This analysis originally appeared at southfront.org on November 11, 2017, after the Syrian and Russian defense ministries for the first  time announced the liberation of al-Bukamal. On November 19, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies once again liberated the city from ISIS. Thus, the terrorist group lost its last stronghold in Syria.

The liberation of al-Bukamal become another turning point marking the start of a new phase in the Syrian conflict. ISIS has lost all important cities, which it used to control in Syria, thus becoming just a terrorist group rather than a terrorist state.

The terrorist group still controls some villages in an area between al-Bukamal and Deir Ezzor, a part of the border between Syria and Iraq, a part of the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus and a chunk of territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Many ISIS members are now fleeing the country in an attempt to reach safe havens around the world. The remaining terrorists will be involved in a guerilla war against the Syrian government and US-backed forces.

Now, Syria could be divided into 7 sectors controlled by various parties:

  1. The Syrian government, backed by its allies – Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, controls the biggest part of the country, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deir Ezzor, Damascus, Latakia, as-Suwayda and Tartus. However, the militant-held pockets inside the government-held area pose a significant security threat. The situation is especially complicated in Eastern Ghouta and the Yarmouk Refugee Camp. The pockets of Bayt Jinn, Jayrud and Rastan are relatively calm.
  2. The situation is complicated in Daraa where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and its allies are in control of a part of the provincial capital. The Russia-US de-escalation zone agreement in southern Syria allowed the intensity of fighting there to decrease. Despite this, clashes erupt from time to time in Daraa city and near the Golan Heights. Militants in southern Syria are mostly backed by Jordan, the US and Israel. Tel Aviv often uses tensions in the area to justify its strikes against Syrian forces and describes its support to local militants as a humanitarian assistance to the local population. It is interesting to note that Israel has no problems with the ISIS-linked Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, which operates near its forces. The so-called local armed opposition does not seek to fight ISIS there either.
  3. The at-Tanf area on the Syrian-Iraqi border is controlled by the US-led coalition and a few US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups. FSA units are concentrated around the US garrison at at-Tanf and in the nearby refugee camp. The US says that it needs this garrison to fight ISIS while in fact it is just preventing Syria and Iraq from using the Damascus-Baghdad highway as a supply line. US forces respond with airstrikes and shelling to any Syrian Arab Army (SAA) attempts to reach at-Tanf.
  4. Northeastern Syria, including the cities of Raqqa, Tabqah, Hasakah and a part of Qamishli, is controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Kurdish militias YPG and YPJ are a core of the SDF and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) de-facto controls this area. A notable number of US military facilities and troops in this area are an important factor contributing to the SDF’s confidence. Some aggressive SDF statements against Damascus can serve as an illustration of this fact.
  5. Northwestern Syria is also controlled by the SDF. However, the US influence in this area is lower and local Kurdish militias maintain better military relations with the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance. They also face more pressure from Turkey and its proxies.
  6. Turkey and pro-Turkish militant groups control a chunk of the border area, including al-Bab, Azaz and Jarabulus, in northern Syria. Ankara has a strong position there and pro-Turkish militants have repeatedly clashed with SDF members near Tall Rifat.
  7. Turkish forces are also deployed at the contact line with the SDF in the province of Idlib. However, almost the entire province is still controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). This means that Ankara and the terrorist group have reached a kind of agreement over the deployment of the Turkish troops. Ankara actively uses various militant groups to pressure Kurdish forces, which it sees a part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK operates in Turkey and northern Iraq and has been seeking for a long time to establish an independent Kurdish state there.

Clashes of various intensity between the SAA and HTS have been ongoing in northern and northeastern Hama since October. This clearly shows that the Idlib de-escalation agreement is not working and creates HTS positions in the area, which will be an obvious target for the expected SAA operation after ISIS is driven out from the rest of villages in the Euphrates Valley. According to pro-government sources, the SAA has already started redeploying elite units from Deir Ezzor to Hama.

Experts believe that the mid-term SAA goal there is to further expand buffer zone along the Ithriyah-Khanaser-Aleppo highway and to liberate Abu ad-Duhur. This will allow to shorten frontline and increase a concentration of troops and equipment on the contact line when the so-called opposition decides that it’s time to negotiate.

Another possible hot point is Daraa. Local militants will resume their military activity in the city if they see that their Idlib counterparts have become a target of a large-scale SAA operation.

Now, Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran and Syria are increasing their diplomatic activity in order to find a way, which could allow work to start on developing a final political settlement of the crisis. They all have objective limits to their influence on the ground and some contradictory goals. This complicates the situation, especially amid a lack of strategic vision from the US which, according even to American experts, has no long-term strategy for Syria. The US elites and their Israeli and Saudi counterparts are especially dissatisfied with the strengthened position of Hezbollah and Iran.

If the sides are not able to find common ground in the nearest future, the conflict may easily give rise to a new round of violence.

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eric zweistein

Wake up, SouthFront, this is the most embarrassing analysis I’ve read in a long time!

Rex drabble

Lets hear yours then.Tell us all about it.

andy l

Well offer your own & lets see how it compares to SF.

eric zweistein

Assad left never any doubt: Syria will be a wholly reunited, sectarian, sovereign nation again, with an autonomous Kurdish region, or course. Everything else are girlish, Zionist dreams.

Augsta “Augsta”

You are embarrassing just look at your name !!!


Clear the remaining ISIS held areas, eradicate the green disease and announce an ultimatum to the SDF/YPG/PKK.

Icarus Tanović


Augsta “Augsta”

That’s the way to talk SVEN tell it like it is and will be !!!

ελευθεριος βενιζελος

1500 tanks from russia 3000 apc+artilery pièces 150 su24 su25 mig 29smt with 100 helos and let the new formed divisions take Idlib and the kurds out…


Formed with who? The SAA has had a manpower shortage for years now because most men of fighting age have left the country, or paid some government official to avoid military service.

It’s the manpower shortage that is dictating SAA operations, not lack of equipment.

ελευθεριος βενιζελος

i do not disagree but you can have fewer units with more men.. and if the equipment is modern….


They need to be trained to top notch standards though. Which is not something that the SAA has excelled in. Hell, in fact the three biggest military jokes used to be Saddam’s Iraqi army, the Saudi army and the Syrian army. The best the Syrian army has managed to do was the Tiger Forces, and they did so by stripping most of the other units of their best and brightest into a brigade sized fighting force. The Russians have been training Syrian troops for years now, and while there has been a marked increase in performance many Syrian units still fall in the category of abysmal. And the trained troops seem to have gone from abysmal to tolerable. To make the leap from tolerable to top notch would probably require gutting the Syrian state, get rid of its massive corruption, reform the culture and basically build everything up from the ground up. Probably not something the Syrian powers that be are interested in. Either way it would take many years to do so. Even the best Arab army in the field, Hezbollah, took many years by Iran to become what it is today. And Iran had the advantage that the average Hezbollah soldier was and is a lot more motivated then the average SAA recruit.

Augsta “Augsta”

You the man give me more I wish Putin does this !!!


America occupying Syrian land is completely violation of UN resolution.



Langaniso Mhlobo

Useless USA/Israel own UN.

Carol Davidek-Waller

Please refer us to any battles on which ISIS or all Nusra attacked U.S. backed forces? Wouldn’t that be biting the hand that feeds them? Once in a while the U.S. drops a few bombs, bribes a victory while providing buses so militants and their families can relocate to remaining safe havens.


“ Militants in southern Syria are mostly backed by Jordan, the US and Israel”…TRANSLATION…INTERNATIONAL MERCENARY TERRORIST in southern Syria are mostly PROTECTED by Jordan, the UNITED STATES AND ISRAEL.

Icarus Tanović

We should really pound some serious crap out of Daara.


“according even to American experts, has no long-term strategy for Syria”…BULL SHIT; the long term strategy of the UNITED STATES in Syria is to give SYRIA TO ISRAEL.


@el-zorro….”the long term strategy of the UNITED STATES in Syria is to give SYRIA TO ISRAEL.”. That’s not a strategy, that’s a goal.


my to do list https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b5f6f48f85a17d01400dcc4d9635c5ac11e7a5d6d48df1426fce4c58703be75b.jpg

Mauro Craizer

First Syria and allies must push diplomatic pressure for US invaders to leave at Tanf, the time has come, their proxies when in need, ISIS, have lost their influence, US invaders from at Tanf have lost all their excuses for being there. Now it’s the time for pushing US & Coalition bases from Syria, starting with at Tanf. Nobody invited them to fight, or to be “peace brokers”. People who know nothing about Syria, just looking on the map would realise, how is US “fighting ISIS” surrounded by Government forces? “Fog sellers”.

Lazy Gamer

One wrong move and the SAA might lose everything again. It is time for the politicians, diplomats, and the journalists to do the work, Negotiating, formulating a new constitution, elections, perhaps Assad should consider a picked successor, disproving the chemical accusations, denouncing the uninvited foreign presence, working on removing all the reasons that they use to stay, rebuilding, etc. Unless, the other factions immediately break away…


You propose something that sounds as if it came from Israel, or you have been reading too much Israeli hasbara. The wrong move for Bashar Assad is not to march and liberate the Syrian Golan Heights from the Israeli illegal occupation. With proper Russian supported air defense, the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah can march into the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and take it back. This would be legal and moral to do.

Lazy Gamer

That’s not realistic. Right now, the Syrian conflict is against non state actors with covert state support. You really think that RIGHT NOW giving any of the neighbours a reason for open war is a good idea? LOL It will be a state vs state open conflict and some of them are itching for it. If one can win without starting a war why not do it that way?

Langaniso Mhlobo

UN forces Syrian forces out of Lebanon on USA demand During Hariris death.So let the same rules apply against illegal USA invasion and terrorist promotion.

Cheryl Brandon

What a decisive victory over the 3 axis of evil; Saudi Arabia/Israhell/U$A! Well done SAA/Russian fighter pilots and IRG plus Iraqi PMU’s; Well done guys. You were awesome!

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