Syrian Army Gains Upper Hand in Damascus Fighting*
By Alexander Mercouris
Latest reports from the fighting in eastern Damascus say that the Syrian army has successfully recovered all the strong points captured by the Jihadis in their attack of yesterday.
In particular the Syrian troops have recaptured the ‘Fabric Factory’ – captured by the Jihadis yesterday – which is a lynchpin of Syrian defences in the area.
The following video shows the Syrian army’s counter-attack, including its use of tanks and armoured vehicles
The Jihadis have suffered heavy losses to achieve ephemeral gains in a series of attacks against the single most heavily defended territory under the government’s control, which is Syria’s capital Damascus.
If the Jihadis failed to capture Damascus during the period from 2012 to 2015 when many of Damascus’s suburbs and much of the surrounding countryside were under their control, and when the Syrian army was on the back-foot in the rest of Syria, they are scarcely likely to make significant gains there now, when the Syrian army has the backing of the Russian air force and is advancing on all fronts.
In strictly military terms the Jihadi offensive therefore makes little sense.
The Russians have said that they believe the purpose of the offensive is to disrupt the reconvening of the negotiations between the Syrian parties which are due to take place shortly in Geneva.
These negotiations are a parallel series of negotiations to the ones taking place under Russian sponsorship in the Kazakh capital of Astana. They have been deadlocked ever since they began, and if the purpose of the Jihadis’ Damascus offensive is indeed to disrupt them then it looks frankly like a redundant effort.
More likely the offensive serves multiple other purposes.
Firstly, it has the political purpose of demonstrating that at a time when the Jihadis across Syria are in headlong retreat they remain a force to be reckoned with, including in the suburbs of Damascus, where they have recently suffered a succession of major defeats. Through the attacks the Jihadis have shown that despite these defeats and their losses they are still capable of striking at the heart of Syrian power, which is Damascus itself.
Beyond that Al-Qaeda – which is the force which is ultimately responsible for the offensive – undoubtedly hopes to shake the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire. Already Al-Qaeda has succeeded in drawing one Jihadi group – Jaish al-Islam – which was observing the ceasefire, into join the attack.
Beyond these straightforwardly political considerations, it is likely that Al-Qaeda is trying to take some of the pressure off ISIS, which is reeling from the effect of Syrian army offensives against it in central and eastern Syria (in the area around Palmyra) and in north east Syria, where the Syrian army has reached Lake Assad and the Euphrates river and is now within striking distance of Raqqa.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS are overtly antagonistic to each other, with ISIS originating as a breakaway from Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda refusing to recognise ISIS’s Caliphate. However that hostility does not extend to the Jihadi fighters belonging to the two groups, who move easily between them. Al-Qaeda’s leadership has probably come under pressure from its fighters to take action to help ISIS. The attack on Damascus is the result.
The Jihadis have shown great willingness to sacrifice large numbers of fighters in these attacks. Their defeat today represents the second time over the course of the last few days that they have tried to storm the industrial eastern districts of Damascus only to be driven back with heavy losses. It remains to be seen whether they will renew their attack for a third time.