The Syrian Army has enjoyed only modest gains from Russia’s military intervention in Syria, according to an analysis issued by military/intelligence website Jane’s IHS.
Jane’s IHS Conflict Monitor reports that Syrian government territorial gains since Russian intervention equate to just 0.4%. The assessment also notes that Islamic State advances in Homs also have the potential to draw in Russian ground forces.
Overall, Jane’s says the Syrian Army, backed by Russian airstrikes and various Shia militias under IRGC command, made net gains of around 240 square kilometers against Sunni rebel factions, but suffered net losses of 120 square kilometers to the Islamic State in the period from Sept. 29 to Nov. 16 2015.
Although the government has made notable gains south of Aleppo city, and managed to break the Islamic State siege on Rasin al-Aboud Airbase, Jane’s said it’s suffered set-backs to Sunni rebels on the Hama front line, and the vital M5 highway link between Damascus and Homs has come under increased threat from Islamic State advances in recent weeks.
IHS analysis of cumulative government gains and losses showed a steep decline in territorial control between October 2014 and September 2015, which is likely to have influenced Russia’s decision to intervene militarily in the conflict.
This trend was reversed in October 2015, likely as the result of Russian air support providing renewed momentum for the Syrian Army. However, Jane’s says preliminary data for November indicates that government performance is flat-lining again.
On a possible deployment of Russian ground forces in Syria, Jane’s notes that on Nov. 17, Russian state television showed a map during a briefing at the Defense Ministry headquarters, which appeared to feature a reference to a Russian artillery battery deployed near the town of Sadad, around 50 km south-east of Homs city. It says Sadad is the last remaining government-held town between the Islamic State, which has made significant gains in Homs province in recent weeks, and the critical M5 highway.
If the Islamic State captures Sadad, Jane’s predicts there will be little to stop the jihadists from linking up with territory they control on the Lebanese border, effectively cutting government-held territory in half.
Russia’s deployment of an artillery battery to the area, if confirmed, would be the first known instance of Russia deploying ground forces in Syria, drawn in by the Islamic State threatening a key government artery.