Short and Sharp: the Syrian War Moving Closer to Strategic Breaking Point

By Patrick Bahzad, Syria — Sic Semper Tyrannis Jan 12, 2016

Are we witnessing the emergence of the first visible cracks in the Syrian rebels’ armour ? It may be too early to predict a breakdown in their defensive posture on the ground, in North-Western Syria, but what commentators on SST had been expecting may be about to start and the “snow ball” effect might set in earlier than expected.

The Borg’s discourse has remained unchanged over the past weeks. Unable to see their narrative for what it is, the proponents of the all too familiar “Assad must go” solution keep arguing that the Russian involvement in the war has been marginally influential at best, detrimental to Putin’s interests at worst. Well, reality is a bitch, as these good folks might find out soon. As we speak, R+6 troops are moving in on the rebel held town of Salma, North-East of Latakia, in an offensive that has the potential to cause the breakdown of this entire stretch of the front-line.

Entrenched in strongly fortified positions, rebel units of various colour had resisted Russian airstrikes and Syrian artillery up until now, sustaining only “minor” territorial losses according to the Borg. But as any first year student of Clausewitz will tell you, defensive warfare only trumps offence if managed properly. The breakthrough of a large attacking force through defensive lines on the other hand can cause for the disruption of the entire strategic balance of power, therefore potentially nullifying any advantage the defending party might have.

Is this what we are witnessing in and around Salma ? It may be too early to tell, but the signs are there and should be a warning to all those who have been arguing that no military victory is possible. Now obviously, they may have a point insofar as a strategic stalemate is one possible scenario for the current conflict, with both sides and their sponsors being in a position where they can never be totally defeated, but can’t win militarily either.

However, this is a debate for the coming SITREP. Tactically on the other hand, an overwhelming victory of the R+6 on various battlefields of the current conflict is a distinct possibility. The way in which Russia, Syria and Iran could use that victory depends on their strategic goals, and the reaction of their opponents. Things might get settled at the negotiating table, as peace talks are supposed to resume at the end of this month, or the military option might be favoured, in which case we shall witness yet another round of fighting, whose outcome seems less and less likely to favour the opposition.

But first things first. The SAA, NDF and their allies (Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and IRGC advisers and units) are advancing on every front they are currently fighting. Up until now, these gains might have looked “marginal”. But in a war of attrition, and actually any war for that matter, “marginal” doesn’t mean anything. Once the strategic breaking point is reached, “marginal” gains can turn into a landslide advantage, opening the way to a totally different phase of combat. With the R+6 breaking through rebel lines at the key town of Salma, in Latakia province, they might just have precipitated the rebels’ crashing down in that area.

Combined with the newly launched R+6 offensive West and South-West of Aleppo, a picture slowly emerges that SST had been forecasting for some time: the Salafi/Jihadi “emirate” of Idlib is at risk of being taken in a pincer move, which might crush most of the forces currently present in this area. Assuming the Syrian army, or their allies, launch yet another operation attacking Idlib from the South, the horizon for the various rebel groups looks quite grim. The days to come will be interesting …