Russia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign is tilting the balance of the war in Assad’s favor

David Axe reports: Russia has ramped up its air war in Syria — big time. And it’s starting to show. Relentless and indiscriminate, Moscow’s bombing runs have devastated military and civilian strongholds and cleared a path for Syrian regime forces to counterattack against ISIS militants and rebels.

Five months after the first Russian warplanes slipped into Syria to reinforce the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin’s air wing near Latakia — on Syria’s Mediterranean coast in the heart of regime territory — has found its rhythm, launching roughly one air strike every 20 minutes targeting Islamic State militants, U.S.-backed rebels and civilians in rebel-controlled areas.

“From Feb. 10 to 16, aircraft of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic have performed 444 combat sorties engaging 1,593 terrorist objects in the provinces of Deir Ez Zor, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo,” the Russian defense ministry claimed in a statement.

That’s double the rate of air strikes that the much larger U.S.-led coalition has managed to sustain in its own, much older campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Leave out the coalition airstrikes in Iraq, where there are no Russian forces, and the disparity appears even greater. While lately Russia has launched around 60 air raids every day in Syria, the U.S. and its allies have pulled off just seven, on average, since launching their first attacks in Syria in September 2014. [Continue reading…]

Syria Direct reports: Regime forces are battling to reopen their only supply route into Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside, the Ithriya-Khnaser road, after the Islamic State cut if off entirely on Tuesday, local journalists and a rebel commander tell Syria Direct.

The supply road originates in Hama city, runs approximately 100km northeast to Ithriya in the south Aleppo countryside, and continues 110km northwest through Khnaser and into Aleppo city.

As of Tuesday, Islamic State forces control a 35km section of the road between Ithriya and Khnaser, Mujahid Hreitan, a citizen journalist in the southern Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

After capturing regime checkpoints along the Khnaser-Ithriya supply route Monday, the Islamic State took full control of Khnaser town on Tuesday, cementing their control over the stretch of road, reported IS’s semi-official news agency Amaq.

IS’s latest campaign is different from previous attempts to cut off the same regime supply route. The Islamic State has now managed to capture the town of Khnaser in its entirety, whereas in the past “IS would take a couple of small areas [along the road] that the regime quickly recaptured,” Ahmed A-Ruwaished, a citizen journalist in the southern Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

The National reports: The capture of Sheikh Miskeen by president Bashar Al Assad’s forces last month was their most significant victory in years on Syria’s southern front, but for the rebels, the manner of their defeat was more alarming than the loss itself.

Rebel commanders and fighters described a litany of tactical mistakes, logistical confusion and destructive infighting that contributed to the loss of the town in Deraa province. One commander summed up the performance of the rebel alliance as a “major failure”.

The inability of the rebels and their international backers to come up with an answer to Russian air power was a significant factor in the battle, and is likely to prove critical over the coming weeks and months, as the fight for Syria’s south continues. [Continue reading…]

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