Syrian Army May Have Set Damascus Trap for Rebels

The Syrian army appears to have changed strategy in battles around Damascus, and reportedly has inflicted heavy casualties on opposition fighters, Nader Ezzedine reports.

al-monitor Buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are pictured in Daraya, near Damascus December 10, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Kenan Al-Derani.

Topics covered

violence, syrian regime, syrian opposition, syrian crisis, syrian, free syrian army, damascus, bashar al-assad

Dec 14, 2012

Ever since the beginning of the second round of “Operation Invasion of Damascus,” field information has been conflicting. At times, the news says that armed rebels have seized key positions in the Syrian capital, and at others, reports say that the Syrian army has set an ambush for the rebels, inflicting heavy damages within the ranks of the opposition.

More than two weeks into the clashes in the Rif Dimashq governorate, the fog began to lift on the facts behind the rebel “invasion.”

Apparently, the armed opposition — Jabhat al-Nusra in particular — suffered serious casualties.

According to information obtained by As-Safir from well-informed sources, the Syrian regime has known for weeks about the rebels’ plan to storm the capital, involving thousands of fighters of all nationalities. The plan was designed to take control of the towns of Harasta and Duma, which would serve as launching pad to attack Damascus.

The rebels sought to seize control of the town Jaramana after a series of bombings targeted its neighborhoods and surroundings as a way to displace residents.

Nevertheless, on the advice of an intelligence service — an ally of the Syrian regime — and in coordination with the Syrian army, a proactive plan was set to counter the attack that was supposed to take place on the morning of the first Saturday of December.

The key point of the plan was to lure militants into an early battle, dispersing their ranks and then striking them a fatal blow.

The weekly Russian Argumenti Nedeli newspaper recently revealed that “the Syrian army managed to launch the first attack on insurgents, dispersing their ranks with the help of Russian intelligence, which provided the regime with some advice on how to deal a proactive strike.”

A few days earlier, the Syrian regime carried out a tactical maneuver on the advice of the allied intelligence service, according to the following scenario: Strategic weapons were removed from their caches, giving a false impression that they were being transported to a safer place.

Meanwhile, foreign satellites, the United States’ in particular, recorded the Syrian army’s activities. This has sparked fears among the international community that Syrian forces are to use a special type of arms, while media leaks suggested the possible use of chemical weapons.

Enemies of the Syrian regime contributed to the promotion of this scenario, thinking that this would lead to a foreign intervention or pressure on the regime to settle for minimal political gains.

However, the chemical-weapons propaganda did not play out to the advantage of the militants; rather, it negatively affected their combat performance.

Other sources also indicated that the plan was designed to spread misleading information about widespread defections in the ranks of the Syrian regime's forces protecting Damascus. Moreover, Syrian troops have been reported to be completely broken. Because of this, news spread about the downfall of key centers and bases in the capital and major desertions in the ranks of the army.

All this prompted militants to mobilize on the outskirts of the capital and launch an early attack. The rumors spread by the Syrian regime itself gave insurgents an incentive to attack Damascus immediately. What promoted the theory of the collapse of the Syrian army in the capital was the swift progress by rebels within a few days without having met any significant resistance, as the Syrian army had vacated a number of its military positions.

The maneuver was designed to cause a rift between militant groups and their supply lines.

According to the British The Independent newspaper, “The Syrian government has adopted a new strategy in recent weeks whereby it withdraws its troops from bases that are indefensible in order to concentrate them in Damascus and other cities it views as strategically crucial. This pull-back enabled the army to launch a successful counter offensive in the past week, relieving the military pressure on the capital and improving its negotiating position.

The newspaper also quoted a source in Damascus as saying that “The government says it made a strategic choice not to defend smaller outposts.”

Furthermore, sources indicated that the insurgents and their supporters were under the impression that the downfall of the regime was in sight. Thus, they launched their attack two days before schedule, on Thursday, Nov. 29, as the regime had planned for.

At the beginning of the attack, communications of all kinds broke down in the country, which was the first shock for the armed groups, who were unable to update each other on the progress of battles.

Sources described the assault on Damascus as the largest and most severe since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. Armed groups fell into the trap set by the Syrian troops, who have been receiving extensive training in Russia and Iran on how to launch counter offensives on armed gangs.

It must be noted that Russia and Iran have agreements with the Syrian region on strategic cooperation and exchange of technical and security expertise.

The battle included heavy shelling on rebel locations, dispersing their ranks over several areas. Syrian troops launched counterattacks from the east and the west at the same time, after luring rebels toward areas located at more than 40 km from the capital and 20 km from the their supply lines. This forced rebel groups to head to towns of Harasta and Duma, right under the regime’s fire, which was what the regime had planned.

Clashes were also raging along the front of Ghouta, in the eastern part of Damascus. The rebels’ force was depleted before they made it to the outskirts of the airport, especially in the towns of Haran al-Awamid, al-Delba, Sakka, Deir al-Asafir, al-Maliha, Babila, Damir, al-Hujaira and Khan el-Sheik.

Battles ended in the town of Daraya, where hundreds of militants were killed, some of whom were non-Syrians. According to sources, the death toll in the ranks of the armed groups is much higher than what has been reported in the media.

As for the days ahead, sources said the US has granted opposition rebels a period of one month to launch a third round of attacks on Damascus, in an attempt to make serious gains on the battlefield, which would contribute to boosting the conditions of the Russian-US settlement.

The settlement is set to come into force by the end of January, based on the agreement reached in Geneva.

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