BEIRUT, LEBANON (12:40 P.M.) – Al-Qaeda-linked militias are preparing for a major operation to halt the advance of Syrian pro-government forces throughout southwest Aleppo province by making a determined stand at a strategic town in the region.

As the Syrian Arab Army and allied paramilitary groups sweep across the southwestern countryside of Aleppo province en-route to friendly forces in eastern Idlib encountering little to no resistance (so far), Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are nonetheless readying for a major engagement in southwest Aleppo at the town of Tal ad-Daman.

Tal ad-Daman is by no means a large town (not even to Syrian rural standards), however it does happen to command all the main roads leading from southwestern Aleppo into eastern Idlib and northeast Hama.

Several days ago, fighters of the Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) militant group filmed themselves inside the town, claiming to have repelled an army advance.

Whilst the claim was an outright lie because the Syrian Army was tens of kilometers away from the Tal ad-Daman at the time, government troops are now in fact closing on the town via the Al-Hass plateau and Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham has made clear its intention to fight for the it.

The end game of Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham is clear, the militant group wants to hold Tal ad-Daman in order to prevent a secure link-up between Syrian forces in southwest Aleppo and those in eastern Idlib.

If the Syrian Army intends to properly connect the southwest Aleppo front with eastern Idlib, the control of Tal ad-Daman is crucial. By not holding it, Syrian troops leave themselves open to constant counter-attacks by armed rebel groups from the north, who will use the town as a major mobilizing point.

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