The Islamic State Flexes its Muscles in Syria
… If we stop fighting now, this would mean death for all of us …
OE Watch Commentary: The rebel takeover of Syria’s Raqqa Province was never completed. Although rebels seized the provincial capital (Raqqa) in March 2013, the province’s three key military bases remained in government hands throughout the rest of the year. In January 2014 the Islamic State (IS) expelled other rebel groups from Raqqa but did not challenge for control of the government-held military bases. It was only after the IS seized territory to the east (the provinces of Hasakah in Syria and Nineveh in Iraq) and southeast (the provinces of Deir Ezzour in Syria and al-Anbar in Iraq) of its stronghold in Raqqa that it began attacking Syrian government positions. In late July IS fighters launched a coordinated attack against three important, semi-isolated Syrian military sites: the Kuweiris Military Airport in the eastern Aleppo countryside, the 121st Artillery Regiment HQ in Hasakah Province, and the 17th Division HQ on the northern outskirts of Raqqa city. The latter two were quickly overrun, as were the Baath Party HQs in Hasakah and the 93d Tank Regiment to the north of the 17th Division HQ in Raqqa. At the time of writing, the IS appears to be readying an offensive against the al-Tabqa [aka al-Thawra] Military Airport, the final Syrian military position in Raqqa. According to the first accompanying article, from the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, military airbases are to become the key targets for both the IS and the Islamic Army (Jaysh al-Islam), the Douma-based rebels at the center of the newly formed Syrian Revolutionary Command.
The fall of the 17th Division and 93d Regiment in Raqqa was surprisingly quick. As a result, opposition activists have described the battle for these bases as “theater,” as shown in the second accompanying article. Be that as it may, the expulsion of Syrian military from most of Raqqa is a significant tactical, strategic and informational victory for the IS. Images showing heavy armor and artillery seized from the bases in Raqqa and Hasakah were uploaded by IS fighters. The group is now in a position to begin consolidating its hold on Raqqa, Deir Ezzour and eastern Aleppo. Perhaps most importantly, the fighting in Raqqa shows that a key element to IS military successes is the slick, multifaceted and largely successful efforts of its partisans to strike fear in the hearts of their adversaries, elicit respect from the populations they control, and awaken a desire to participate in the minds of sympathizers and admirers. The takeover of the 17th Division HQ featured heavily publicized beheadings of men who IS fighters claimed were Syrian military officers. Grotesque photos showing the heads on stakes in a plaza in Raqqa went viral on Twitter.
The IS offensive in Syria’s east began with a bloody attack on the Sha’ir (Shaer) gas field in the Syrian desert near Palmyra. The offensive has been costly for the government and its supporters, and, as the third accompanying article notes, the steep death toll of late July/early August is causing renewed anxiety among Syria’s Alawite community. The IS’s targeting of religious minorities in Iraq’s Nineveh Province is likely to fuel Alawite unease, making them less willing to fight in areas where they have little to no demographic presence and more likely to consolidate their forces to defend the Damascus-Homs-Lattakia axis. This, at least, is what the IS is probably hoping for. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)
Source: Suhaib Anjarini. “Airports the Main Target for Jaysh al-Islam and ISIS,” 8 August 2014. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon).
For its part, the Islamic State has determined the target of its next attack, without saying so officially. According to leaks obtained by al-Akhbar, military airports in al-Tabqa (rural Raqqa), Deir Ezzour and Kuweiris (rural Aleppo) will be the target of coordinated violent fighting in the next few days.
Source: Muzmajer al-Sham. “The Theater of the 17th Division Liberation,” 1 August 2014. El Dorar.
Anyone with passing knowledge of the 17th Division and its nature will not have the slightest doubt that that what took place was cheap theatrics and nothing more…
Source: “Syrian Alawites Horrified by Rising Death Toll,” 5 August 2014. Al-Monitor.
A woman from the same village emphasized, “We must continue to fight.” Although she lost one of her children in the Kassab battles this past spring, she stressed, “The rest of my sons are still in the battle. We will fight until the end. If we stop fighting now, this would mean death for all of us. This is why I am angry at the Alawite youth who evade military service,” she added.