Idlib, Syria – During late August the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) continued its drive towards Khan Sheikhoun and on 21 August, after two days of heavy fighting, the city was liberated. Securing the city was a great boost not just to the morale of the SAA and the entire country, but it also provided a strategic initiative to the Syrian and allied troops, due to the partial encirclement of the northern Hama pocket, filled with various terrorist groups.
Map showing the strategic situation in southern Idlib/northern Hama theater of operations right before the liberation of Khan Sheikhoun
At the same time as the liberation of Khan Sheikhoun was completed, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and other pro-government factions advanced on positions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) in southern Idlib. SAA units liberated the hill of Tari (Tall Tari) and advanced on the town of Tamanah. The goal was to increase pressure on terrorist positions in northern Hama by cutting off all the remaining supply lines heading from southern Idlib to the terrorist stronghold in the city of Lataminah.
Map showing how Syrian troops managed to cut off the retreat corridor for the terrorists fleeing northern Hama
The following maps show the advance of Syrian troops and their highly successful elimination of the northern Hamma pocket.
Clockwise: 1) On August 22, government forces liberate the village of Sayyad, the Sayyad hilltop and several nearby points from members of radical militant groups remaining in the area. 2) SAA units advanced on Kafr Zita, Lataminah and Morek. 3) Syrian military opens a humanitarian corridor for civilians leaving the northern Hama pocket. Pro-government media even joked that the corridor will also be used to evacuate Turkish troops from their “observation point” south of Morek. This “observation point” became infamous after Turkey allowed various radical militants to use its surroundings to use it as a launching ground for attacks on SAA positions. This decision turned Turkish troops deployed there into human shields and led to casualties among Turkish personnel. Instead of removing militants from the area, Ankara expectedly blamed the “bloody Assad regime” for these casualties. 4) Turkish “observation point” No. 9 surrounded by SAA troops.
Syrian troops even taunted Turks, knowing they were hiding terrorists inside their post, which was one of the main reasons why Tukey refused to vacate the area, thus hoping to avoid the embarrassment of explaining what are al-Qaeda terrorists doing inside their “observation post”.
A Facebook video showing SAA reaching the Turkish Army positions
The situation remained relatively unchanged in other areas of northwestern Syria, although the assassination of Suhaib Abu Khallad, one of Idlib’s senior terrorist commanders is likely to sow further discord among the already panicking terrorists in the province.
Video of the Syrian Arab Army’s operation to secure northern Hama countryside from 6 May until 23 August 2019.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) also released a video of the headquarters and the tunnels, which were used by militants of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Jaysh al-Izza. The SANA’s reporter in Hama said that the militants used the underground fortifications to take shelter from warplanes and to run their operations in the region.
“The tunnels include a series of operations room, which were used by the terrorist groups’ commanders to plan their criminal acts,” the reporter said.
Terrorists built most of the fortified positions during the last Sochi ceasefire agreement, which took place between September of 2018 and April of this year; video shows the comprehensive network of tunnels terrorists used to hide from Russian Air Force strikes
Idlib terrorists’ counteroffensive fails
During the liberation of northern Hama, terrorists made the last-ditch effort and tried to breach the government forces’ defenses in the provinces of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo, mostly in order to relieve the terrorists trapped in the northern Hama pocket. But ultimately, they suffered heavy losses and were forced to retreat.
After the liberation of northern Hama, Russian intelligence reports of thousands of terrorists from North Caucasus and Central Asia were confirmed to be true. However, their motivation for joining terrorist groups was revealed to be quite banal – money.
Video by Vesti News showing the failure of the terrorists’ counteroffensive, as well as confessions of captured terrorists from the territory of former USSR
A map showing the situation in northwestern Syria on August 24