Reading between the lines: Syria’s shifting dynamics or more of the same?

Charles Lister writes: Syrian opposition forces have won a number of significant military victories in Idlib governorate in recent days. These notable gains have been focused along an area that hugs the strategically important M5 international highway, south of the town of Maarat al-Numan and north of the border with Hama governorate. The village of Kafr Basin was captured on May 23rd; a major army refueling base, known as Hazj (or checkpoint) Khazanat was taken on May 25th; followed shortly thereafter by the seizure of Hajz al-Salaam and the town of Khan Shaykhun on May 26th.

Practically speaking, this string of victories will advance a long-term opposition military strategy aimed at posing an increased threat to the government’s control of Idlib city and Hama governorate. More immediately, the seizure of Khan Shaykhun will have cut off an invaluable government supply line to the large Wadi al-Deif base in Maarat al-Numan, which has allegedly been the source of the several recent chlorine gas attacks reported across Idlib. In fact, shortly after fighters seized Khan Shaykhun, the town itself was struck by an apparent gas-filled barrel bomb attack.

With regards to intra-insurgent dynamics, these latest developments have been equally important. Contrary to suggestions made in some recent analyses that suggested this may no longer be possible, the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, the conservative Islamic Front, mainstream Islamist alliances, and moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups were all involved, many having been engaged in close cooperation and coordination.

As I recently wrote (in Dynamic Stalemate: Surveying Syria’s Military Landscape), the conflict in Syria is intensely complex and the overall strategic-level battle dynamics are consolidating into a state of near-total stalemate. I contend that this state of affairs will continue for some time to come, at least until the Syrian opposition is able to impel the Assad regime onto a negotiating table that better favors genuine dialogue and the chance for a peaceful solution. [Continue reading…]

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