BEIRUT, LEBANON (4:45 P.M.) – Although not the most fantastic or headline-grabbing operation currently being undertaken by Syrian pro-government forces in comparison to their battles against ISIS in Deir Ezzor province, the northeast Hama offensive – being carried out with only a fraction of the Syrian Arab Army’s vanguard strength – is nonetheless offering worthy insight into the true strength northwest Syria’s most powerful jihadist militia – Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham.
Although not the main opponent of pro-government forces since the start of 2017, fears that the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group may have used such a lengthy breathing space to recover from its devastating defeat in Aleppo city have proven to be unfounded.
The inherent weakness of Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham can be seen in the fact that the jihadist paramilitary still (after many years) has to rely on fire support – mostly in the form of heavy artillery and anti-tank guided missile systems – from other rebel militias fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner.
To this end, well-trained shock troops and car bomb attacks (the scale of which are nowhere near what the Islamic State terrorist group is able to muster) are simply no longer enough for Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham to turn back or chase away Syrian pro-government forces.
Furthermore, although possessing over one hundreds tanks and armored fighting vehicles in June 2016, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham has since been reduced to less than a couple dozen such assets following multiple failed offensive operations over the last sixteen months which have taken a very heavy toll of the militia’s mechanized forces.
Another sign of weakness and desperation by Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham can be seen in its latest propaganda videos.
Several weeks ago, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham released a 20-minute propaganda flick making a big deal out of an operation by its forces which saw them capture the once government-held trading village of Abu Daleh.
The victory at Abu Daleh was the result of thousands of Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham militants storming a village held by less than 100 pro-government fighters that was located in a neutral zone (a place where the warring sides have agreed not to attack one another).
The week prior to Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham’s Abu Daleh operation, the jihadist militia suffered hundreds of dead in a failed offensive aimed at seizing the fortress town of Ma’an after which it was pummeled into the ground – loosing hundreds more militants killed – by a remorseless Russian strategic bombing campaign throughout northwestern Syria that lasted for 6 straight days.
Thus, although Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham has proven itself to be the most powerful rebel militia in northwestern Syria against other paramilitary groups, it on its own is nothing – as the northeast Hama operation has shown – compared to the comparative strength in manpower, military equipment, firepower and operational skill that pro-government forces led by the Syrian Arab Army can bring to bear.
At this point in the war, and even if Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham was able to reconcile with all of the other rebel factions in northwest Syria which it has hitherto alienated, nothing can save jihadist organization from total military defeat at the hands of pro-government forces, for once ISIS is inevitably defeated, the main effort of the Syrian Army’s offensive focus and power will be shifted towards defeating it.