Anti-Tank Missiles Hamper Regime Military Operations in Rural Hama
Opposition factions in Idlib and rural Hama have veered from the military strategy they previously pursued in their battles against Assad forces, turning from defense to offense. This was done by relying on anti-tank missiles, which proved very effective on the ground. In this, they were assisted by the geography of al-Ghab Plain, west of Hama, as well as Hama’s northern countryside.
Since June 24, 2019, battles did not subside on the frontlines extending from the Sirmaniyah area in the western Hama countryside to the al-Hamameyat to the north. Opposition factions, across different military formations, carried out land offensives using anti-tank missiles. They announced the killing of dozens of soldiers in Assad forces, and the destruction of regime trucks, tanks and Shilka armored vehicles.
The divergence from a defensive posture into launching attacks against positions of Assad forces began about a week ago. It was especially enabled after the control of the three strategic towns in the northern countryside of Hama: Jibeen, Madrasat al-Dahra, and Tal Meleh.
Since June 6, Russian-backed Assad forces have been unable to reclaim the three towns, which formed a triangle deep within regime-controlled territories cutting the road between the towns of Mahardah and As Suqaylabiyah. The last such attempt took place on June 28, 2019, as Assad forces failed more than five times to restore control over the towns, and lost military units in the course of its land incursion on areas controlled by opposition factions.
According to a military commander in rural Hama, residential buildings in all three towns were razed to the ground. Opposition factions turned to maintaining control of the through fleeting checkpoints, as well as ambushes, targeting military units in Assad’s forces.
Assad Forces Provoke Monitoring Points
The stalemate facing Assad forces on the ground, in the northern and western Hama countryside, prompted them to shell Turkish monitoring posts in the area, which was not a new development but recurred over the past days. The attacks, the last of which was on June 27, 2019, killed and injured Turkish troops. A monitoring post in Sher Al-Maghar was targeted by artillery shelling, which led to the death of a Turkish soldier and wounded three others.
The attack on Sher al-Maghar came after Turkish threats of immediate retaliation in the event that any monitoring point in northern Syria is attacked, made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
The outpost in Sher al-Maghar was the first to be established by the Turkish army on the western edge of the Idlib governorate and its surroundings. Its location is considered “strategic” as it overlooks the surrounding areas. It is located in an elevated location which enables the forces within it to monitor any movement, especially by the Assad forces, on the other side.
More than 100 Turkish army soldiers are stationed in the point, including officers, special forces, commandos, as well as military equipment and dozens of armored vehicles and tanks.
In recent days, Turkish army reinforcements continued to arrive at monitoring points in Idlib, especially in the Sher al-Maghar point in Jabal Shashabo, which maintained control by opposition factions in western Idlib until today.
On May 22, Turkey announced that it would not withdraw its military forces from the Idlib governorate, in light of a military escalation by Assad’s forces in the region.
According to TRT, Hulusi Akar was reported saying, “Turkish armed forces will not withdraw from the monitoring posts in Idlib.” He added that “the evacuation of monitoring posts in Idlib after regime attacks will certainly not occur, and won’t occur anywhere.”
By monitoring what is happening on the fronts in the northern and western countryside of Hama, Enab Baladi found that opposition factions relied primarily on anti-tank missiles in their operation. The function of these weapons is not limited to armoured or heavy vehicles, but even infantry, as opposition factions published video recordings that documented the targeting of Assad soldiers with such missiles. It is noted that the use of open and unlimited, against the backdrop of large reinforcements that have reached opposition-controlled areas since the beginning of military operations in the region.
On 15 May, a military source from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Enab Baladi that Turkey has provided FSA factions in the Idlib governorate with anti-armor missiles, in conjunction with the military campaign launched by Assad forces in the region.
The source, who holds an administrative position in an FSA faction and who asked not to be named, added that his faction received batches of these missiles. He added that the missiles were also received by factions of the National Front for Liberation (NFL) which is headed by the Sham Legion. These batches included Kornet, Red Arrow, TOW, and Konkurs missiles.
According to the source, the missiles arrived during the entry of a delegation of Turkish officers to the region, who toured the monitoring points deployed across the Idlib governorate.
In an earlier interview with Enab Baladi, FSA commander Fares Bayoush said that Syrian opposition factions followed a ground force tactic in current battles which states that primary attacks should not be concentrated on the axis from which hostile forces. Instead, several axes of attack are launched to distort and divert the attacking forces.
The military commander said that the factions have diverged from the strategy they had previously adopted on the battlefronts in rural Hama and Idlib, by introducing a new tactic which he considered to be “feasible and achieves great results.”
L39 Aircraft, a Favorite Target by Rebel Factions
In the context of clashes in the northern countryside of Hama, Ebaa news agency, affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), accounted on June 28 hitting Assad forces L-39 military aircraft, forcing it to do an emergency landing after being targeted by an anti-air missile.
The aircraft is the third hit claimed by HTS in June of 2019. The faction announced, on June 7, hitting an aircraft of the same model during battles in the north-western regions of Syria.
In its second such claim, Ebaa quoted a military source in the HTS, that members of the anti-air company of the Omar ibn al-Khattab Army targeted an L-39 aircraft in the airspace of southern countryside of Idlib, confirming the hit.
The recurrent hits of regime aircraft, although through shoulder-fired anti-air missiles, indicate the susceptibility of this particular jet model, which has been hit three times in Idlib, while no modern jets have so far been hit.
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