When the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) retreated from Idlib City and Palmyra in late Spring of 2015; it was assumed that the latter was suffering from a shortage of manpower to combat the Al-Qaeda affiliates from Jaysh Al-Fateh and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS).
Of course the number of soldiers at these fronts were not overwhelming in favor of the Syrian Armed Forces; however, more importantly, the strategy behind these massive withdrawals was far more frustrating and mind-boggling for those who observed the battles of Palmyra and Idlib from afar.
How could their frontlines crumble so quickly? Sure, one could argue that the sleeper cells inside these cities gave the Islamist forces a boost; but, this still does not explain why the Syrian Arab Army would leave tanks, weapons, and et al.
Even more frustrating was the fact that Jaysh Al-Fateh appeared unstoppable, as they marched on foot through 30 kilometers of rugged terrain without much resistance from the Syrian Arab Army and National Defense Forces (NDF) after the fall of Idlib City in April 0f 2015.
Then there was Palmyra – a relatively uncontested city that sits in the heart of the Homs Governorate’s vast desert terrain: how could ISIS evade the watchful eye of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF)?
Well, the answer is simple: there was no contingency for the retreat and no coordination with the Syrian Air Force to halt ISIS’ advance from Al-Sikanah.
Where were the mines? Where were the roadside bombs? Jaysh Al-Fateh and ISIS would travel from town-to-town unscathed; meanwhile, the Syrian Armed Forces would just abandon their posts, leaving their weapons and vehicles to be confiscated by the enemy combatants.
This was not the first time that the Syrian Armed Forces have committed something so foolish and it likely won’t be the last time if they do not modify their withdrawal contingencies.
There is no excuse for allowing enemy forces to move freely from town-to-town without any repercussions; in fact, this has very little to do with manpower and more to do with adept battlefield commanders.
Idlib, Busra Al-Sham, and Palmyra were a disaster for the Syrian Armed Forces; and if they do not change soon, the Dara’a City salient could very well resemble Jaysh Al-Fateh’s Idlib offensive.