The Liberation of Palmyra

The Palmyra Citadel.
The Palmyra Citadel.
The Palmyra Amphitheater.
The Palmyra Amphitheater.
Life news still of ancient Palmyra.
Life news still of ancient Palmyra this week.
The Syrian Army, liberators of Palmyra, defenders of civilisation.
The Syrian Army, liberators of Palmyra, defenders of civilisation.

March 31st, 2016.

The Liberation of Palmyra.

Civilisation triumphs over the forces of nihilism, chaos and destruction.

The US Air force stood, watched and did nothing in May 2015 as the city of Palmyra fell to  ISIS.

Ten months later and Russia has emerged as the defender of civilisation in Syria and nothing makes this clearer than the liberation of Palmyra.

While the US was perfectly happy to stand back and watch Syria being looted and pillaged by the forces of chaos and mayhem, Russia sent her soldiers  to fight and die in the fight against them and they have succeeded.

It was an extremely difficult and costly operation and only a week ago ISIS appeared to have the upper hand in the fighting around Palmyra the short video below shows a Russian journalist embedded with the Syrian Army under a hail of fire, pinned down and trapped as ISIS fighters rain accurate fire down on the Syrians from an elevated position. The trapped soldiers had to wait for nightfall to be able to move.

SYRIA Russian journalists under fire by ISIS

This video from Life news of Russia gives some insight into the intense fighting that took place in and around Palmyra this week.

Russian Life News Report Frontline Palmyra Coverage

The Battle of Palmyra: The Syrian assault on ISIS inside the city

While ISIS clearly made a tactical decision to withdraw from Palmyra and Tadmur this week, the group are still present in the area, still well armed and still capable of mounting successful small-scale attacks.

Russia Defense Report: The Hero of Palmyra

Still from an ISIS video shot on March 27th, the destruction of a Syrian Army tank with a rocket in the vicinity of Palmyra. (Source)
Still from an ISIS video shot on March 27th, the destruction of a Syrian Army tank with a rocket on Mount Tar north of  of Palmyra. (Source)
Still from an ISIS video shot on March 27th, the destruction of a Syrian Army tank with a rocket in the vicinity of Palmyra. (Source)
Still from an ISIS video shot on March 27th, the destruction of a Syrian Army tank with a rocket in the vicinity of Palmyra. (Source)
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Still from an ISIS video shot on March 27th, the destruction of a Syrian Army tank with a rocket north of Palmyra. (Source)

The Western “Response.”

Reporting on the liberation of Palmyra, the BBC World Service were reduced to offering the pitiful “many blame the Syrian Government for allowing the city to fall.”

It is worth remembering that fewer than two years ago the Western elite and their pet media were trying to present the Russian President, with a straight face, as the new Hitler.

This now laughable idea was actually a very popular meme throughout 2014 being voiced by Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton, the British Prime Minister and the next in line to the British throne, among many others.

The hollow men and woman of the Western media supported these fallacious pronouncements as they do everything, with mindless enthusiasm and transparent sophistry.

The southern outpost of the Mighty Wurlitzer took to the task with shameless relish.

Hillary Clinton’s comparison of Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler checks out – Fact Check – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

So these latest developments are another self-inflicted moment of acute humiliation for the self appointed masters of the universe.

In this light the muted, sulking and whining response to the Russian operation in Syria and the Palmyra triumph make perfect sense.

The past two years have been among other things one long festival of humiliation for the Neoconservative Western elite, much of it at the hands of the Russian President. This must be a difficult moment for them.

In the Daily Beast they were still droning and whining about moderate rebels, in an unintentionally comedic piece written in the parallel universe of the Western propagandist where al Qaeda are moderate democrats!

Putin and Assad Score a Major Victory Against ISIS, After Hitting Syrian Rebels for Months – The Daily Beast

To describe the al Nusra Front are a terror group is a simple statement of fact. This is their legal status as designated by the UN along with their parent organisation al Qaeda.

al Nusra front deserve the designation having conducted terror attacks that target civilians in both Syria and Lebanon where the “plucky moderates” sent a suicide bomber to commit murder in a Tripoli cafe in late 2014.

Nusra Front claims Lebanon suicide attack – Al Jazeera English

They have massacred numerous groups from whom they differ including Shia, Christian and Druze. They have desecrated Christian churches, they have conducted chemical weapons attacks against both military and civilian targets. The only meaningful ideological difference they have with ISIS is that they believe in building an Islamic State in Syria after the war ISIS have tried and failed to do so during the war.

Any “journalist” who attempts to portray the Syrian opposition other than ISIS as being moderate is either a brazen liar and fraudster or simply a tool who deserves to the same contempt they have for their audience.

Al Nusra are the pivot group of the entire Syrian insurgency, throughout the war they have been allied with militant factions across the board and were the core and spearhead of the Army of Conquest coalition that swept through north-western Syria in 2015 seizing the province of Idlib.  Jabhat al Nusra have maintained alliances with the supposed moderates of the Free Syrian Army throughout the entire war.

FSA, Jabhat a-Nusra ally in north Homs ahead of expected Russian-backed offensive – Syria Direct

Syria: Drone shows ancient Palmyra relics following end of IS siege

Inside Old Palmyra: Exclusive access to ancient relics after ISIS flees

This image shows the relationship between Palmyra, Der ez Zour and Raqqa in Syria's east.
This image shows the relationship between Palmyra, Der ez Zour and Raqqa in Syria’s east.

The Road Ahead.

The Syrian Army are in the process of de-mining Palmyra, removing the hundreds of bombs and booby traps placed by the guerrillas, other units have fanned out in several directions and although clashes continue in the Palmyra area it is expected that the Syrian Army and their allies will soon  begin to move further north-east as they follow the M7 highway towards Der ez Zour.

Der ez Zour is 200kms away through a desert of sparse villages. If ISIS choose to mount guerrilla raids on the advancing forces it may take them months to advance across the desert.

On the other hand if the group withdraw the Syrian Army could be fighting to break the siege of Der ez Zour within weeks. If recent history is any guide it will be many months.

Palmyra victory has Syrian Army set to break ISIS siege on Deir Ezzor

If the Syrian Army manage to cross the desert and link up with the forces besieged in Der ez Zour, the current episode of the Caliphate project will be over. The forces in Syria will be reduced to operating in small isolated pockets of territory.

Amidst the deafening silence, the obfuscation and barefaced lies, Robert Fisk of the Independent stood out as one Western journalist willing to state the truth about Palmyra and the West.

Why is David Cameron so silent on the recapture of Palmyra from the clutches of Isis?

“So in the end, it was the Syrian army and its Hezbollah chums from Lebanon and the Iranians and the Russians who drove the Isis murderers out of Palmyra, and who may – heavens preserve us from such a success – even storm the Isis Syrian ‘capital’ of Raqqa. I have written many times that the Syrian army will decide the future of Syria. If they grab back Raqqa – and Deir el-Zour, where the Nusrah front destroyed the church of the Armenian genocide and threw the bones of the long-dead 1915 Christian victims into the streets – I promise you we will be silent again.”

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South Front still shows the relationship between Palmyra and Der ez Zour to the east and indicates the likely trajectory of the Syrian operation in the near future.
ISIS in the Palmyra amphitheater about to stage a mass execution.
ISIS in the Palmyra amphitheater about to stage a mass execution.
The Syrian Army burns the flag of ISIS after the liberation of Palmyra.
The Syrian Army burns the flag of ISIS after the liberation of Palmyra.

Russia Begins Withdrawal from Syria.

A small group of SU35s, Russia's most advanced war plane were deployed to Syria only weeks ago.
A small group of SU35s, Russia’s most advanced war plane were deployed to Syria only weeks ago.
Khmeimim airbase (also written Hmeymim‬) on Google Earth.
A South Frnt still shows the areas of control in Syria as of March 14th, 2016.
A South Frnt still shows the areas of control in Syria and south western Iraq as of March 14th, 2016.

March 16th, 2016.

Russia Announces Withdrawal of its Military from Syria.

On the eve of UN brokered peace talks, the Russian Government has made the shock announcement that they will  withdraw the “main part of their military grouping in the Syrian Arab Republic” beginning immediately.

The statement from the Kremlin does not say how many of the Russian Aircraft and troops will be withdrawn from Syria nor how long it would take but it has already started.

FIRST VIDEO: Russian warplanes leaving airbase in Syria

This is a very strange turn of events when it is considered that Russia was sending more warplanes to Syria less than a fortnight ago. South Front reported in early March that Russia had just sent several extra aircraft to the Syrian base and provided an updated inventory of the Russian Airforce in Syria.

South Front's updated inventory of Russian warplanes in Syria from early March, 2016. This indicates that the decision to begin to withdraw was taken in the past several weeks.
South Front’s updated inventory of Russian warplanes in Syria from early March, 2016. This indicates that the decision to begin to withdraw was taken in the past several weeks.

What Forces does Russia have in Syria?

The Russian Air force has stationed almost 100 aircraft in Syria, the estimates for the number of Russian troops in Syria range between 5 and 20,000. Whatever the number, Russian forces have not played a significant role in ground battles.

Officially, the Russian military have suffered three deaths during the Syrian operation, two on November 24th last year when Turkey shot down the Russian SU24 aircraft and another soldier died in the rescue effort and a soldier who died earlier this year as the result of a reported ISIS mortar attack.

There were also credible reports that a car bomb attack in Latakia claimed by Ahrar al Sham had killed at least ten Russian soldiers in late February.

Syrian rebels claim car bomb attack that killed Russian soldiers in Latakia – ARA News

The story disappeared but there were people on both sides telling neutral sources it happened.

Motives.

The Russian decision comes as a shock as they are a vital element of the loyalist coalition that is midway through several major operations.

The motives for this decision will become clear over time but it seems that Russia has decided to put its will towards ending the war in Syria.

It is possible that Russia is attempting to send a message to their Syrian Government allies that they must be flexible in their negotiations with the opposition.

In recent days the Syrian Foreign Minister stated that the status of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad was not up for negotiation. It is possible that Russia would like to see Assad and coterie head into exile as a way to end the war.

Future of Bashar al-Assad remains ‘red line’ as Syria peace talks begin

Russia has tended to be at least one step ahead of Western observers in recent years so only when we see what happens next will Russia’s intent become recognisable.

There are three obvious possibilities.

  1. This is a ruse designed to bolster the Geneva talks and Russia’s international image.
  2. The US and Russia have made a secret deal regarding Syria’s future that will end the war.
  3. Russia wants Bashar al Assad to leave Syria and is trying to make Assad understand that he must yield to the demands of the opposition and leave power.

My understanding is that Russia is perfectly happy to see Assad leave as they understand that the demand for his departure is merely an excuse for the destruction of Syria via a continuation of the war, their priority has clearly been the survival of the Syrian state and the Syrian army, under whatever leadership. If the war could be ended by his departure, in an orderly way it is highly likely that Russia would request that Assad leave Syria.

This is a provisional map of the ceasefire areas. The orange areas are government controlled. The green areas are under juhadist control and the ceasefire areas are in blue.
This is a provisional map of the ceasefire areas. The orange areas are government controlled. The green areas are under juhadist control and the ceasefire areas are in blue. The cessation proved more significant than the small blue sections of the map would indicate.

Brief Summary of the Military Situation in Syria.

International Military Review – Syria–Iraq, Mar. 14, 2016

International Military Review – Syria, Mar. 16, 2016

A Cessation of Hostilities?

Around one hundred small insurgent groupings chose to participate in the partial ceasefire. The cessation did not apply and was never intended to apply towards either ISIS nor the local al Qaeda franchise the al Nusra front. Another large grouping Ahrar al Sham chose not to participate in the cessation due to the fact that the al Nusra front, their close ally, were excluded.

Ahrar al Sham says no cessation of hostilities while Nusra is being attacked : syriancivilwar

Therefore the only insurgent groups of any significance to participate was the Jaish al Islam, largely based in the outer Damascus area and the Southern Front coalition of insurgents fighting in the far less active southern parts of Syria.

On paper it seemed then that the cessation of hostilities would make little difference but the fighting has been sharply reduced in the fortnight since implementation and Russia has been helping to negotiate a series of local amnesties and ceasefires, building on a tactic the Syrian Government has been using for several years and that has seen insurgents allowed to leave many areas including Homs city.

Since the cessation began anti Government demonstrations have resumed in the rebel held areas but they are neither large nor enthusiastic. On the weekend an attempt to hold a pro-democracy rally in Idlib backfired badly when the “democratic’ protesters were attacked by Islamists advocating the implementation of Sharia law. The overwhelming desire of the majority of the people appears to be for the war to end and be able to resume their lives.

The sooner it is over the better, but the problem of al Nusra, ISIS and their sponsors is not suddenly going away, even if the Americans decide to call it a day, there are strong indications that neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia would follow the advice or direction of the US.

Looking from the Latakia mountains down into al Nusra held Idlib province. The town of Jisr ash Shigour is the white patch in the upper left, at a distance of around 7 kilometres.
Looking from the Latakia mountains down into al Nusra held Idlib province. The town of Jisr ash Shigour is the white patch in the upper left, at a distance of around 7 kilometres.
Syrian Amry rockets impact on a Latakia mountain viewed from a surveillance drone.
Syrian Amry rockets impact on a Latakia mountain viewed from a surveillance drone.

Major Current Government Operations.

The Latakia offensive is almost complete and the assault is poised to move onto Idlib province in the coming days and weeks.

Drone footage of Syrian Army MRLs against militants in Kabbani – Latakia

Syria‬ ‪‎Latakia‬ : ‎SAA‬ ‪‎NDF‬ military operations in Vicinity of ‪‎Kabani‬

A large operation is also underway against ISIS in the area around Palmyra in central Syria.

Syrian Army prepares to storm Palmyra | March 10th 2016

Rain of BM-30 Smerch, TOS-1A and BM-27 by SAA on ISIS in Palmyra

Fighting continues in the Hama and Homs countryside and in southern Aleppo.

Battles for Syria | March 12th 2016

Battles for Syria | March 13th 2016 | North Hama Plain

The Der az Zour pocket showing the SAA positions.
The Der ez Zour pocket showing the SAA positions.

Besieged Der ez Zour and Conclusion.

Thousands of Syrian troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians remain encircled by ISIS in the eastern city of Der az Zour and although ISIS are on the path to total collapse in both Syria and Iraq, without Russian air support it is hard to see the Syrian Army liberating Palmyra and defeating ISIS and al Nusra in Syria.

The attempt to end the war is admirable but this will not solve the problem of al Nusra and ISIS each of which retains significant territories within Syria.

It must be assumed that Russian air strikes will continue in Syria for many months at the very least with a scaled down presence conducting a smaller campaign.  Anything less would be a betrayal of all they have achieved up to this point.

International Millitary Review & Analysis – Withdrawal of Russian Military from Syria


First group of aircraft has left ‪‎Hmeymim‬ airbase for permanent location airfields in Russia