Ariha has fallen today along with Kafr Najd in only about three hours, the SAA withdrew. No wonder as the rebels had control of hills overlooking the town and could TOW army vehicles literally in its streets.
This was the last city in Idleb governorate that was in Assad's hands (not counting the twin besieged Shia towns north if Idleb city), all that remains now are a few villages along the road. Wonder if the SAA will attempt to defend those for as long as it can to delay rebel redeployment from the salient to a new front or if they will withdraw to save troops and equipment and redeploy them themselves to a more defensible position. In any case Assad must be feeling that bitter taste in the back of his mouth for the last two months, he has lost Idleb, Jish al-Shughur, Matsouma and the huge army base south of it, the National Hospital with most of the besieged troops inside (they made a breakout but of ~150-250 at least 130 died in the process), and now Ariha. Deir ez-Zor is besieged for good, IS took Palmyra and is on the doorstep of densely populated west Syria. Too bad that most of the Jaish al-Fatah rebels are hardline islamists/jihadists. http://news.yahoo.com/rebels-storm-last ... um=twitter
Rebels storm last regime-held city in Syria's Idlib: monitor
Beirut (AFP) - A rebel coalition led by Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate edged into the last remaining government-held city in the northwest province of Idlib on Thursday, a monitoring group said.
The lightning offensive saw the Army of Conquest, or Jaish al-Fatah in Arabic, enter outer districts of Ariha within a matter of hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
"There was heavy shelling and rocket fire, then they stormed the city," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
"They have entered the city and are engaged in fierce clashes on its peripheries," he added.
Ariha, which was home to 40,000 people before the conflict began, is the last remaining government-held city in Idlib province which borders Turkey.
"The march of lions has begun... Let Allah liberate Ariha," the Army of Conquest's official Twitter account posted.
The coalition, which includes Al-Qaeda branch Al-Nusra Front, has won a series of victories in Idlib, including the provincial capital on March 28 and the key town of Jisr al-Shughur on April 25.
Most recently, the rebels seized the massive Al-Mastumah military base and overran a hospital complex where regime soldiers were trapped.
Many government forces retreated from these areas to Ariha, which Abdel Rahman said was heavily defended by fighters from Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
The Army of Conquest vowed to consolidate its control of Idlib province, where the regime still holds Ariha, the Abu Duhur military airport and a sprinkling of minority villages and military posts.
I wrote the following text on how things may play out next a few days ago elsewhere, but it still applies:
definitely don't look good for the SAA. However, things looked even worse in 2012 when significant parts of Aleppo, Idleb and Homs provinces fell under rebel control as well as a good part of Damascus, Deir ez-Zor and large areas next to the Lebanese border, but Assad managed to turn their progress into a stalemate and slowly rebounded (with a huge help help from Hezbollah). But then it was a problem of proper mobilization and deployment for the SAA, now it is a problem of attrition, not only for the SAA but for Hezbollah as well, as it is evident that it no longer provides the edge for the pro-Assad side that it has before, while the Iraqi militias are mostly dealing with crap back home now.
The Idleb salient will almost certainly be closed very soon, or at least severely shortened. From there on rebels will have ~70km of frontline less to worry about and will be able to redeploy the men guarding it elsewhere. That elsewhere can be:
- Latakia - even though there is next to no support for the rebels there, attacking it could draw the SAA to defend their heartland or even cause the Alawite soldiers which are the bulk of the SAA's fighting force to defect to protect their homes, making the job easier for the rebels in other areas.
- Further south towards Hama - I expect an epic clusterfuck in this governorate in the future as both the SAA, the IS and the non-IS rebels start fighting in the countryside, though the city will likely remain under the SAA as it's of paramount importance.
- Aleppo - either the city itself or the supply lines south-east of it. The SAA seems to have exhausted its ability to progress in this region as of the failed push for Nubl and Zahra in February. I too thought that Aleppo would be encircled fully in a matter of months after the SAA broke the siege of the prison last year, but for a full year after that they've made very little further progress. The status quo in Aleppo is one of a balanced stalemate, but if rebels were to divert enough men and resources from Idleb this may change.
In addition to the north, the Southern Front rebels may use the SAA's preoccupation elsewhere to make a push for the Darayya pocket, endangering Damascus, and IS may come uncomfortably close to Homs and Damascus from the east.
The only thing the SAA has going for it is Qalamoun, which was actually a Hezbollah battle anyway and which is of limited strategic importance and more of a PR stunt, as it has already been neutered last year, and Hasaka, where Kurds are doing most of the work, but due to that the SAA doesn't have to worry about IS as much there anymore. It remains to be seen if the announced Hezbollah mobilization will have a significant effect on the ground.
Also a Vice News feature about the Shughur offensive:
In other news, remember when I mentioned that the rebels of Aleppo declared war on the Kurdish held district of Shekih Maqsood? It came to blows today and people died. Furthermore Al Nusra and Ahar ash-Sham have blockaded the Kurdish Arfin canton north of Aleppo city due to rising tensions. This was all due to a woman being allegedly mistreated by the Kurds. A few people died in the YPG/rebel clashes in Aleppo today, but now supposedly they have reached an agreement to stop the fighting. Weird and still largely unconfirmed (the agreement, the fighting did actually occur). It would be the pinnacle of stupidity for the rebels to pick a fight with the Kurds at this time when things are going good for them against Assad.
Diversity within Oneness.