Wednesday 7 August 2013

Syria: Nubl and Zahra after Minnigh?

Safwat al-Zayyat

Where will Syria’s rebels turn next after seizing control of Minnigh airbase and securing a lifeline from Turkey to Syria?
Would they try and capitalize on their surprise assault on President Bashar al-Assad’s mountain stronghold to attack Latakia city?
Answers from Egyptian military strategy analyst Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Safwat el-Zayyat, commenting last night on Aljazeera TV news channel:
Three types of war are currently being fought in Syria:
1. The cities’ wars, which are attrition wars in the main, such as in Damascus, in Aleppo – where it is into its 384th day, and in Deraa. Al-Manshieh is the only neighborhood still standing in the armed opposition’s way to win full control of the city.
2. Open field wars, such as over control of Minnigh military airbase. It took the armed opposition not less than 244 days to overrun the airbase, which covers an area of not more than two square kilometers. This is because the regime has the airpower advantage in open field wars to limit rebel advances on the ground.
3. With the rebels’ surprise offensive in Latakia province, we’re now into mountain wars – the combat for hilltops, valleys, narrow pathways, and unavoidable corridors. Such wars reduce the effect of the regime’s air supremacy and gradually limit its use of tanks and armored fighting vehicles. We saw how rebels used their Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles to great effect earlier today (August 6) and yesterday (August 5) to capture mountain villages in their Latakia province offensive.
It took the armed opposition only three days to move into such villages as Baroda, al-Ballouta, and Aramo in close proximity to al-Haffah. The latter is five kilometers from Aramo and 15-to-20 kilometers from Latakia seaport city.
I think the rebels were smart to target al-Haffah, because it is demographically predisposed to welcome them, even at the risk of artillery and air reprisals by the regime.
As regards Latakia city, I believe the armed opposition would prefer to bide its time at this stage. It would suffice to keep the city within its firepower control at this time.
More importantly, and for the first time in 12 months, the armed opposition was able to build a bridgehead in Latakia’s mountain villages to bury the regime’s dream of carving out a statelet in the coastal area.
In another gain in northern Syria, by taking full control of Minnigh airbase the armed opposition has secured a lifeline and key supply route from Turkey into Aleppo. Minnigh is just south of the Syrian town of A’zaz and the neighboring Turkish town of Kilis. The A’zaz-Aleppo highway is thus in opposition hands.
The rebels will as a result refocus on two nearby regime pockets at Nubl and Zahra, two (Shiite-dominated) villages (where Hezbollah fighters have been training loyalist militia).
Whether they turn to Nubl and Zahra or try to overrun Aleppo central prison next, the rebels are poised to win the battle for Aleppo province.
In other words, the regime’s great fanfare about winning the war after retaking Qusayr 61 days ago has been choked back.