By Naveed Malekafzali (Twitter)
Homs - Shortly following the surprise capture of the town of Qaryatayn in Homs province by ISIS sleeper cells, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its associated forces are preparing to retake the area. The town with a large Christian minority was initially attacked on September 29th, and was announced to have been officially captured by ISIS on October 1.
While the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) conducts air raids on the town and fighting is taking place at the southern gate, the main push to re-take the area is being prepared from elsewhere in the province. Regular soldiers are surrounding the town as of the time of this writing in preparation to storm in the coming hours/days. However, manpower shortages, a chronic issue with the Syrian government during the civil war, have forced the SAA to resort to utilizing local police forces in Homs province as supplementary soldiers.
While not officially confirmed by any outlet directly associated with the Syrian government, reports say that those responsible were 120 ISIS fighters who had "settled their status" with the government. They launched their sleeper operation against the Hezbollah fighters who were holding them at a reconciliation center in the town. Shortly afterwards, they donned SAA uniforms and set up fake checkpoints, commonplace during their peak operations phase in Iraq. Like in Iraq, these checkpoints have been used to lure in arriving pro-government fighters which are they then killed after they reach the outpost.
The capture of Qaryatayn is part of ISIS's recently initiated "Abu Muhammad al-Adnani Offensive", which aims to recapture mass swathes of the Syrian desert in Homs and Hama, and to break the siege on the small ISIS pocket in the province latter. The offensive has stalled after fighting reached the recently recaptured town of Sukhnah, but the fighting in the Syrian desert has yet to cease. The capture is notable for being at least 70 kilometers from the nearest frontline of fighting between the two groups.
Qaryatayn was originally captured from the Syrian government in August 2015, and held for eight months before being re-taken, but not after ISIS had partially demolished an ancient monastery and caused much of the town's Christian population to flee.