The frontline in Northern Hama has once again erupted in a fury of gunfire, shelling and airstrikes after almost six months of relative calm in the region. The cause for the instability is a large-scale militant offensive being led by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham terrorist conglomerate and backed various sub-groups of the Free Syrian Army crypto-Salafist, Turko-philic faction.
The initial blows onslaught were delivered on the 21st of March in a fashion typical of most terrorist offensives with two car bombs being detonated at Syrian Arab Army checkpoints outside the town of Souran. Both car bombs hit their mark and succeeded in bursting open Syrian Arab Army lines. Within hours, the town was stormed and the offensive commenced. Additional breakouts southeast of Haifaya and north of the predominately Christian city of Mhardah were also made by attacking militant forces.
Over the next few days, the militant forces, backed by a ferocious torrent of artillery fire and additional VBIED attacks, expanded the northern Hama salient and succeeded in capturing a number of key towns and villages including Souran, Maardes, Kawkab, Khattab, Majdal, Kafr Amen, Marzaf and Shayzar. Across the entire line of contact, pro-government forces were forced to withdraw south. At the height of their advances, the combined Jihadist-Islamist coalition threatened both the city of Mhardah and the fortress town of Ma’an with encirclement. In addition to this about three attempts were made to storm the strategic town of Qomhana from its northern and western approaches, however pro-government forces succeeded in repelling every assault. In the last several days, the terrorist onslaught appears to have been ground down and contained and whilst it is possible that there are more phases to the Jihadist-Islamist offensive, in the meantime pro-government have launched localised counterattacks.
Now one week into the offensive, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have recaptured Kawkab, Tal Amen, Marzaf and Shayzar. At this time, pro-government forces operating in the Northern Hama combat sector consist of the Syrian Arab Army including high-quality formations such as the elite Tiger Forces and Russian-trained 5th Legion as well as paramilitaries such the National Defense Forces and Hezbollah. Both containment and counter-assault operations conducted by pro-government troops are being backed heavy airpower coming from the Syrian Arab Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces. The most intense airstrikes have been observed in the frontline areas of Majdal and Qomhana, as well as the militant controlled town of al-Ltamenah.
In the last 24 hours, the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist faction has entered the fray on the side Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army. Attacks were made north of Mhardah and Kernaz. After a very brief pre-assault bombardment, the frontline villages of Tal Jadida, al-Karamita and al-Sakhir were seized by Ahrar al-Sham.
However, within hours, the pro-government forces regrouped and launched a swift counter-attack, reclaiming all lost sites. In the case of the battle for al-Sakhir in particular, it appears that an ambushed was laid by the Syrian Arab Army and then sprung on the Islamists after they entered the village.
At this point it is worth mentioning that the principal strategic objective of the militant offensive is unclear at this time. Nonetheless, it seems that in the meantime, the militants, whilst they remain on the offensive, will attempt to isolate and capture the predominantly-Christian city of Mhardah. On this matter, the High Command of the Syrian Arab Army has likely concluded that the fall of a Christian settlement to sectarianist forces with a track record for murdering, enslaving, pillaging and raping those deemed to be apostates is completely unacceptable and thus pro-government forces will likely commit to the defense of Mhardah and its inhabitants – even if it means encirclement. The recent cooperation between the Free Syrian Army, the Jihadists of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamists of Ahrar al-Sham once again demonstrates that the triangle of collusion between so-called opposition forces, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in their efforts to destroy the legitimate government of Syria remains very much alive. On a final note, the presence of offensive Syrian Arab Army formations such as the Tiger Forces and 5th Legion in the Northern Hama combat sector indicates that the pro-government forces plan an offensive action of their own sometime in the near future, the full scope of which can only hypothesised at this time.