The Al Qaeda stronghold Salma in the countryside of Latakia is one of the keys to controlling the M4 Latakia-Aleppo highway and therefore its strategic value. Its increased elevation gives the occupier the ability to overview the territory west of the village.
In July 2012 the Free Syrian Army took control of Salma. With the rise of the extremist groups Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS, Salma became the headquarters for their operations in the Latakia province. In 2014 ISIS got expelled by the other militant groups, making the Al-Nusra Front the dominant party that is in control of this vital town.
With the Russian air support the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have managed to capture large swathes of territory in the Latakia countryside. The capture of Jbel al-Nuba by the Syrian Army and the National Defence Force put the Syrian armed forces past the militant’s first line of defense on the south-west flank of Salma (figure 1). Not only does it overlook the M4 highway and the distant al-Qasab mountain, but also Salma’s western supply route.
Figure 1: The military situation of the greater Salma area in the Latakia governance.
The focus of this assault is obviously Salma, but what is needed to destroy or rout the well fortified militants inside this strategic village? A study on the local geography suggests some future insight.
Do note that military operations in mountainous and forested areas are very slow, and the operations might take months before the attack on Salma itself can even begin.
The eastern flank
Kafr Dulbah borders directly Salma’s south-eastern flank. A direct assault from this village may prove costly as Salma occupies the higher ground, but more importantly, the mountaintop that overlooks the route of attack from the north is still held by the Islamist militants. This peak is one of the crucial factors in a successful attack on Salma as it overlooks Salma and the surrounding villages. But before such an important attack is made, it might be wise to secure the easternmost flank first. Capturing Mughayriyah (figure 2) and Kadin (figure 3) will not only secure KafrDulbah’s eastern flank, but also gives fire control from the northeast on Tartiyah (figure 4).
Figure 2: The first phase of securing the easternmost flank.
A simultaneous attack on Mughayriyah (from multiple axes) and Kadin will force the militants to retreat northward as the insurgents in the former village will be encircled once Kadin is captured by the Syrian armed forces. The key in making this assault successful is securing and holding the mountain top east of Kadin and the elevated area between Tartiyah and Mughariyah.