Written by Peto Lucem exclusively for SouthFront
On Sept.15, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) commenced an offensive aimed at breaking the two year siege of the Kuweires airbase located in the eastern Aleppo countryside. Less than two months later, the Syrian troops, spearheaded by the so called “Tiger Forces”, an elite formation of the SAA and led by Colonel Suheil Al Hassan, broke the siege imposed by ISIS militants and were welcomed by the 300 men strong garrison of the airbase.
Many observers have expected that the SAA will establish defensive positions near the airbase to allow Syrian and Russian airplanes to redeploy to Kuweires. Some also anticipated the army will widen the narrow corridor, which allowed to lift the siege from the embattled airfield. However, everything turned out differently.
As anticipated, the SAA liberated numerous small villages and farming areas near the airbase. But it also commenced pushing northwards, towards the important city of al-Bab, which serves as significant logistics centre for ISIS and which can be considered as their most important stronghold in the whole Governorate. On Jan.10, the government forces liberated the village of ‘Ayishah, located only 6 miles to the south-east of Al-Bab. On Jan.14, the SAA captured the villages of Surayb, Ajouziyah,‘Abboudiyah, and Miltafah.
What can we expect after this bold advance towards al-Bab? Looking at the map, the corridor which was so far liberated by the army still seems quite narrow although recently army advances – especially on Jan.14, hint the SAA’s attempts to widen it at least a bit before continuing to advance North. Now the army has several options how to capitalize from the apparently weakening ISIS formations deployed in the area:
1. Continue to widen the narrow corridor located north and south west of the Kuweires airbase in order to secure the recent gains and to prevent the militants’ flanking manoeuvres aimed to cut off the SAA in and near the Kuweires airbase.
2. Halt the attack and allow ISIS to pull back their battered forces. It will help to shorten the frontline and hit retreating formations with a superior fire power.
3. The 3rd is the most promising but also the most complicated option. The SAA may launch an attack from the Sheikh Najjar industrial City and march north east along the M4 highway in order to link up with allied forces currently deployed approximately 4.5 miles south-east of al Bab. Thus, a large amount of ISIS militants would be under siege in a large pocket of approximately 15 miles diameter. This option would require a significant amount of manpower. Although recent information indicates a build up of forces by the SAA and its allies in the Sheikh Najjar industrial City, it isn’t clear yet which aim they have. 11 miles to North West of the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City, in the towns of Nubbol and Al-Zahraa, approximately 35 000 civilians are besieged by Al Nusra (Syrian branch of Al Qaeda) and are waiting for relief.