When ‘the capital of the Syrian revolution’ Homs fell in 2014, many expected the insurgency in the northern countryside of the province to quickly collapse. However, for the past 18 months the frontline has remained largely static.
While airstrikes do sporadically target Islamist hideouts in northern Homs, rebel fighters of Ahrar ash-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) have also raided several villages en route to the government stronghold of Salamiyah.
Nevertheless, the ceasefire in Homs province is mostly holding. This also explains the largely stalemate situation the governorate has witnessed in 2015 and 2016.
But how come the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is unable to capture the remaining rebel-held areas in Homs?
Well for starters, the surrender of Homs city in 2014 included the evacuation of some 1200 rebel militants from the provincial capital to the northern countryside of the province, thus bolstering insurgent defences and moral there.
Furthermore, ISIS fighters invaded many villages in eastern Homs & Hama in late 2014, thereby forcing government troops to redeploy to the eastern flank of this region.
Currently, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are more present in the western Homs pocket while extremist forces such as the al-Nusra Front have transformed the eastern cities of ar-Rastan and Talbisah into Islamist strongholds.
Moreover, these two insurgent-held regions are de facto cut off from each other due to SAA fire control between Tasnin and Az-Zarah.
Meanwhile, neither side inside Homs governorate seems to have sufficient manpower to advance, with government forces mostly relying on local National Defence Forces (NDF) to uphold the siege on the rebel pocket while many regular SAA troops have been deployed to other regions such as Palmyra, Qaryatayn and Aleppo.
Nevertheless, the SAA Military High Command is expected to initiate operations that look to reclaim the rebel-held enclave in northern Homs.
This is largely due to logistical considerations as ar-Rastan and Talbiseh are geographically placed along the Damascus-Aleppo Highway, thus complicating the transport of supplies and government redeployments.