Largely due to the Russian intervention in late September of 2015, the Syrian Armed Forces have conducted a major military offensive in the northeastern countryside of Latakia province. This has seen government troops penetrate deep inside regions which had otherwise been rebel-held since the summer of 2012.
In the matter of barely 6 months, an estimated 50 villages have been captured in the Latakia governorate as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is slowly pushing towards Idlib which is almost entirely controlled by the Jaish al-Fateh rebel coalition.
Russia currently operates out of the Khmeimim Airbase which is located on the southern outskirts of the provincial capital. Through daily Russian air raids on Islamist insurgents, the SAA has been able to make rapid advances inside the mountainous terrain of Latakia.
Remarkably, government troops have even been able to seize the Islamist strongholds of Salma and Rabia. These towns were long considered impenetrable but were nevertheless captured during the winter due to persistent efforts of SAA units, the National Defence Forces (NDF) and paramilitary fighters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Syrian Resistance militia.
However, the frontline has been mostly been steady since March with rebels still enjoying a minor presence inside Latakia’s province.
The static frontline situation can be explained through three separate events:
1. The Geneva-brokered Syrian peace deal which was implemented on the 27th of February.
2. In early March, the elite Syrian Marines and Desert Hawks Brigade were transferred to the Palmyra frontline.
3. On the 14th of March, the Kremlin announced it had withdrawn half its airforce from the Khmeimim Airbase.
Nevertheless, the liberation of Palmyra has now enabled the Desert Hawks Brigade and Syrian Marines to redeploy to Latakia. Furthermore, with the Syrian ceasefire falling apart, Russian warplanes seem to be increasingly operational once again.
Until now, the Russian Air Force has conducted an average 60 daily airstrikes in Syria while the US-led coalition has only carried out an average 7 airstrikes in the country on the daily.
Meanwhile, al-Masdar sources based in Latakia say that local SAA commanders intend to capture the remaining rebel areas in Latakia during the coming months.
If they succeed in doing so, this would put enormous pressure upon the Islamist Jaish al-Fateh umbrella groups in Idlib.
The initial phase of the government’s offensive will reportedly target Kinnsibba village which is still held by rebel forces although it has been besieged by the SAA from three sides.
Map credits to Agathocle deSyracuse.