The recent capture of Salma and Al-Rabi’yah by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been devastating for the Islamist rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat Al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) in northern Latakia; however, these losses are far more stressful for the Jaysh Al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) militias in the Idlib Governorate who now have to deal with the pro-government forces possessing the high ground from nearby Jabal Al-Akrad (Kurdish Mountains).
Following the rebel loss of Salma in early January; it became only a matter of time before the Syrian Armed Forces turned their attention to the long-standing Free Syrian Army stronghold of Al-Rabi’yah in Jabal Al-Turkmen (Turkmen Mountains).
Unwilling to yield any territory to the Syrian Armed Forces, the Islamist rebels launched two counter-offensives this week to recapture villages around the strategic town of Al-Rabi’yah and the Turkish border-crossing near Jabal Al-Zahiyah (Zahiyah Mountains); these counter-assaults were all repelled by the Syrian Armed Forces and they resulted in a high casualty count for the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat Al-Nusra.
In reality, the Islamist rebel forces did not have the firepower and manpower needed to defeat the Syrian Arab Army and their allies during these subsequent offensives in Jabal Al-Turkmen.
Then, like a game of dominoes, over 20 villages fell to the Syrian Arab Army’s 103rd Brigade of the Republican Guard and their allies in only 72 hours around Al-Rabi’yah.
Surrounded from three flanks, the Islamist rebels in Al-Rabi’yah were no match for the Syrian Armed Forces and the Russian Air Force, as they quickly retreated after a short battle on Sunday morning.
Without Al-Rabi’yah and Salma, the Islamist rebels are left with only two heavily fortified villages in Jabal Al-Akrad: Kinsibba and Kabani.
It is only a matter of time before Jabal Al-Turkmen is completely captured by the Syrian Armed Forces; and by the looks of it, the Islamist rebels are about to isolated at both mountain ranges.
The military situation for the Islamist rebels in Idlib is becoming even more critical, as they are surrounded at three different different borders: Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia.
Should the Syrian Arab Army and their allies decide to push for Jisr Al-Shughour, Hezbollah and Harakat Al-Nujaba could surprise Jaysh Al-Fateh with an assault near the rebel stronghold of Saraqib.
The massive gains made by Jaysh Al-Fateh in the summer could ultimately be reversed this winter if they do not find a way to marginalize the Russian airstrikes and the Syrian Army’s advances.