The Syrian Army has kicked-off a new ground offensive against militant groups in the northwest province of Idlib following more than 72 hours of unrelenting air and artillery attacks.
The proceeding three days have witnessed Syrian and Russian warplanes fly hundreds of sorties against dozens of Islamist positions across Idlib province, but with a particular attention to the countryside east of Murrat al-Numan, a major jihadist stronghold that sits on the strategic M5 Highway.
The heavy guns of the Syrian Army have also been involved in hitting tactical targets near the contact line, a much needed supplementation to airstrikes against strategic targets which have left the militant communication zone in a state of paralysis and disarray.
The leading elements of the government assault are the Syrian Army’s elite 25th Counter-Terrorism Division (previously known as the Tiger Forces) who have begun to probe insurgent defenses around the town of Umm Jalal.
This new ground operation by the Syrian Army in Idlib comes about three months after the Syrian Army concluded its offensive to liberate Khan Sheykhun from insurgent groups which had controlled the city for six years.
The previous operation saw the Syrian Army clash with two key Islamist factions – the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group, as well a local militant group called Jaysh al-Izza.
Whilst the latter-mentioned group was effectively annihilated as a standing force – existing only in name at this point (despite new recruitment efforts) – during the Khan Sheykhun operation, the former-mentioned faction, whilst badly beaten, still maintains thousands of battle-hardened and ideologically-motivated fighters in the field.
As with all other times, it is HTS that will offer the most resistance to the Syrian Army’s new ground operation in Idlib province.