By Alex Torrell
The Syrian army "Tiger Forces" unit continues its advance in south Raqqa countryside after securing the gas fields located west to the recently capturedAl-Qawm town area. The elite unit has secured the western flank of Al-Qawm instead of pushing south toward Sukhnah city. This gas field is located 15 km west of Al-Qawm village and would increase the buffer zone between the key towns of Al-Qawm and the front lines against ISIS. This strategy has been used multiple times to prevent ISIS from conducting swift and powerful counter-attacks on a small area.
Instead of pushing south directly, which could put into trouble communications and supply lines, government forces are advancing little by little. Even though the Islamic State is being defeated in the different fronts, its forces still have the capacity and means to create small offensives and counteroffensives. The expected besieged areas in Hama and Homs governorates could present a problem if key territories are not well secured.
There is the possibility that Syrian army leaves a corridor for Islamic State forces to retreat from Hama and Homs instead of ending up besieged in the highly dense mountain terrain. This strategy was also used in several cases by Tiger forces, for example during the operation to retake Aleppo industrial area and the southeast of Aleppo province.
Although retreating from a mountainous area, where armoured vehicles and air superiority are, in theory, less effective, it would still be a possible strategic setback for IS forces. Despite holding the most abrupt terrain, without basic supplies going in, ISIS forces would run out of supplies rapidly which, at the end of the day, would pave the way for Syrian army forces to retake Hama and Homs from ISIS. Retreating as a big group in a large convoy bears the risk of being targeted by the Russian or Syrian air force, which would ensure heavy losses.