BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:00 P.M.) – The month of August has been interesting insofar as the stunning advances of pro-government forces in western and central Syria were almost matched in terms of shock by a large ISIS counteroffensive in southeast Raqqa that – at face value – threatened to reserve all Syrian Arab Army (SAA) gains made in the region since mid-July.
In the semi-desert mountainous spaces of central Syria, ISIS was completely encircled in eastern Hama Governorate after elite Syrian Army troops of the ISIS Hunters at al-Sha’er, advancing north, linked up with Republican Guard forces pushing south of Ithriyah.
ISIS, in vague cooperation with Al-Qaeda forces in Idlib, attempted to launch a counteroffensive at the garrison towns of al-Saan and Sheikh Hilal aimed at lifting the siege of eastern Hama, but this failed outright within about twelve hours; pro-government have since strengthen the encirclement by capturing additional towns south of Sheikh Hilal.
In eastern Homs Governorate, ISIS was also – technically – encircled, however the terrorist group never really left any forces inside the besieged landmass and pro-government forces cleared the region quickly.
Moreover, pro-government forces have expanded their territorial control directly to the east of the strategic town of al-Sukhnah and also liberated the town of Hamimah (also called Humaymah) further south near the border with Iraq.
In western Qalamoun, near the border with Lebanon, the SAA and Hezbollah launched an offensive against ISIS militants entrenched throughout the rugged region. In just ten days, the pro-government alliance (with unofficial cooperation coming from the Lebanese side of the border), completely liquidated the years-old Islamic State bastion.
In southeastern Raqqa Governorate, ISIS launched a rather unexpected counteroffensive that – although making major headway within the first day of its initiation – quickly ran out of steam and was, in every sense of the word, annihilated.
The ISIS battle group which led the attack is said to have consisted of 800 seasoned troops (many having very recently fled from the provinces of Hama and Homs) backed mobile fire support assets including gun-trucks and tanks.
The blow by the jihadist faction which led to the initially witnessed success was a large car bomb attack that it landed against a large gathering of tribal fighters, after which nearby units quickly routed.
By the second day of the battle, a reaction unit of the Syrian Army’s elite Tiger Forces arrived in southeast Raqqa and almost immediately began to reverse ISIS gains. On the third day, another Tiger Forces group was on the scene and with this the terrorist offensive was doomed.
In the city of Raqqa, the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to grind their way through the Islamic State’s many intertwined defensive lines that are buried in the densely urbanized inner suburbs. To this end, the battle for the city has reached its eleventh week with Kurdish-led forces so far being able to wrest control of about sixty percent of it.
In the rocky desert spaces of southwestern Syria, the Syrian Army and paramilitary allies have checked all attacks by US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) mercenaries aimed at reclaiming Jordanian border points in As-Suwieda Governorate.
Furthermore, pro-government forces have launched limited a counteroffensive which is now pushing FSA militants back to their main base at al-Tanf. How far the Syrian Army chooses to pursue them to this US-manned installation is another question.
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