Yesterday saw the release of some impressive first person footage of a group of Ahrar al-Sham members storming and taking a hill in Latakia Province. Recently, Jaish al Fatah has been making advances into Latakia that are starting to put the traditional home of the Alawite sect into jeopardy. It is extremely important for Assad to keep control of these areas, however there is more and more evidence pointing to an extreme shortage of troops for the Syrian regime. This is leaving the regime with some extremely difficult choices as it is currently under assault in several areas in the north and south of Syria. It is also questionable to assume that Hezbollah would get involved in the Latakia Province, however it is not out of the realm of possibilities. There is some Hezbollah presence, however, this would cause an increase in casualties and an increase of Hezbollah becoming deeper involved in the quagmire it finds itself in inside Syria.
How did this all happen? In 2013, the Latakia front was opened by a coalition of groups ranging from the Free Syrian Army to Al Nusra. The 2013 offensive was primarily lead by jihadist groups like Nusra and Junud Al Sham (a group of mainly Chechen jihadists). Ahrar al Sham also had a presence, along with Harakat Sham al-Islam (a group founded by released Guantanamo inmates). The Islamic State also participated in this attack as relations were still good between IS and the rest of the opposition in 2013.
Several Alawite villages were taken, and allegations of civilian massacres by Al Nusra were also reported. The Assad regime was able to retake most of these villages, however, the insurgents were able to dig in and establish a small presence in Latakia.
Footage of Latakia offensive in 2013
The 2014 Latakia offensive is likely better known because it brought the infamous #SaveKessab hashtag that was eventually popularized mainly due to Kim Kardashian efforts to bring attention to the issue. Most of the information and pictures were eventually debunked. However, the issue was widely covered in the media. Some politicians also capitalized on the issue and presented it as an issue of “Muslims killing Christians”.
Even Travis Barker of Blink 182 got involved
The 2014 offensive was mainly lead by jihadist groups like Al Nusra and the Islamic Front. The FSA had a somewhat limited participation in this offensive, relations between the FSA and the rest of the opposition were very poor during this time, especially in northern Syria. Some FSA groups claimed they were not informed about this offensive by the jihadist groups and stated they were not allowed by Turkey to travel into Latakia from Turkey.
Once again, Chechens played an extremely prominent role in the fighting. Turkey also allowed several groups to advance into Latakia via Turkey. This offensive also saw the Turkish Air Force take down a Syrian Air Force jet. Turkey claimed the jet violated Turkish air space while Syria denied this.
The most famous battle occurred over “Hill 45” which changed hands many times, before eventually being recaptured by the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces (Syrian Militia supporting the Assad regime). Hezbollah also provided advisors at the very least to the Syrian Army during this battle.
Footage from the 2014 Latakia Offensive
The 2015 offensive is the first offensive where the opposition has seen success beyond entrenching in the area. This is mainly due to the success of the Idlib campaign by Jaish al Fatah. This gives the opposition a stable operations center to launch attacks into Latakia. This coupled with the Daraa offensive in the south places two regime strongholds under the possibility of direct threats. The 2015 offensive has also seen the presence of Iranian advisors in the area. This presents a real problem for the Assad regime in maintaining its base of support. Assad needs this support to stay in power. Keep in mind, Latakia has seen heavy losses of its young men due to fighting and the recent issue of a cousin of Assad murdering an air force officer due to road rage has not helped.
As mentioned at the start of the article, first person footage of Ahrar al Sham storming a regime outpost on top of a hill was uploaded recently. The attack apparently caught the regime soldiers by surprise as evidenced by a smoking hookah and what appears to be food being cooked. The soldiers manning the outpost appear to have ran off.
Of chief importance is the success the opposition is seeing in the Sahl al-Ghab plains. Control of this area allows the opposition to cut off a supply route to both Hama and the city of Latakia. Also worthy of note is the presence of American vetted groups supplied with TOWs in Latakia and the al-Ghab plains. The hills of Latakia are especially well suited for TOWs and it will be extremely difficult to dislodge these groups. It appears as if the opposition has established what might be a permanent presence in Latakia.
Assad now faces a decision of having to withdraw troops from other areas in order to defend Latakia. The other option would be an increased presence of Hezbollah soldiers and Iranian units. It should be pointed out that this might not be as popular with the Alawite base as they have cherished their sovereignty.
This video contains footage of the FSA 1st Coastal Division which is a TOW supplied group