More often than not, military and political analysts refer to the current ground situation in Syria by referencing maps that are visually descriptive, but lack the depth to convey what is really going on inside the country.
Coloring provinces and cities can be productive if you are attempting to kill time while waiting for your dentist to perform a root canal procedure; however, in this war, it is a façade that has hyperbolized the gains of a radical group like the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham’s (ISIS), who are often depicted as having control of half of the country.
ISIS Enters the War:
Analysts display elaborate maps that show remarkable artwork, but little depth or comprehension of the ground war; after all, most observers do not know that over 80 percent of the territory ISIS controls is actually uninhabited desert terrain.
In fact, Syria’s eastern front was relatively quiet until ISIS captured the provincial capitals of Al-Raqqa and Nineveh (Iraq); this paved the way for the rebel forces to abandon their posts in the Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah Governorates.
Before ISIS’ capture of Palmyra in the Homs Governorate, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) actually controlled the main highway from Deir Ezzor City to Palmyra, despite allegedly being surrounded by ISIS from all sides.
The Road to Palmyra:
When ISIS attacked Palmyra, most observers did not realize that the terrorist group possessed a clear path to this ancient city from their own positions inside Al-Raqqa; and why would they?
Well, while ISIS was traveling unscathed from Raqqa City to Palmyra, they were also moving freely from Raqqa City to the border-city of Ras Al-‘Ayn in northern Al-Hasakah.
Then there is the talk of Deir Ezzor City: many analysts do not understand the purpose and importance behind the Syrian Army maintaining control of this old city on the Euphrates River; if they were to concede the town to ISIS, they would endanger the Syrian capital of Damascus because the highways that travel through Deir Ezzor City lead to it from the east.
Rebels Cutoff the Latakia-Aleppo Highway:
The Syrian Arab Army’s 2nd Corps are spread across the Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia Governorates; they were relatively unused by SAA’s Central Command until the war began in Syria.
When the Syrian War spread to Aleppo in the Summer of 2012, the Central Command mobilized a number of SAA units in order to combat the latest insurgency; however, this was a little too late – the rebel forces had cutoff the main pathway to Aleppo from Latakia.
The Latakia-Aleppo Highway (also known as the M-4 Highway) was cutoff and unlikely to be recaptured quick enough to relieve the embattled soldiers trapped inside the Aleppo Governorate.
As a result of this, the rebel forces captured a number of cities and bases amid a large withdrawal of Syrian Army units to the provincial capital – the city was on the verge of falling until their breakthrough at the Khanasser front.
Syrian Army Finds an Alternative Route to Aleppo:
In late 2013, the Syrian Arab Army finally got the break they were looking for after they captured the strategic cities of Khanasser (Hama) and Al-Safira (south Aleppo); this eventually led to the Syrian Armed Forces linking the Khanasser Highway to Aleppo City.
With the Khanasser Highway under their control, the Syrian Armed Forces were able to recover a number of sites in the Aleppo Governorate, while also expanding their primary supply route to different fronts inside the province.
Who Will Win This War?
If the war somehow does not end up in a political settlement, the winner will likely control the main highways and roads leading to Syria’s provinces and major cities; without control over these roadways, the enemy fighters can continue to resupply themselves in order to prolong peace.