The regime’s recent offensive against the Islamic State aimed at clearing large parts of desert in Syria’s Raqqa Governorate of Islamic State presence took a drastic turn when a counter-attack spread chaos and fear among the forces spearheading the offensive. Completely misjudging the impending danger and incapable of properly anticipating the Islamic State’s counter-attack, the offensive collapsed and instead of capturing large swaths of territory, the remaining regime forces were forced on the defensive, eventually being beaten all the way back to their starting point. The outcome of the offensive came as a surprise to many, not in the least because its exact goals remained unclear for some.
While some were quick to state the offensive was an attempt to capture the Islamic State’s capital Raqqa or even to reach the besieged garrison in Deir ez-Zor, the actual goal of the offensive was to capture Tabqa airbase and from there to move on to the actual town of Tabqa itself. Much of the confusion originated from the unofficial name tied to the offensive: ”To Raqqa”, which actually meant this offensive was only the beginning of regime operations in the Governorate of Raqqa rather than directly capturing Raqqa itself. If the attempt at capturing Tabqa would have proved successful, this would have completely cut off the remaining road connections to the Islamic State from the outside world, and allowed the regime to use Tabqa as a staging base for future operations into the Islamic State’s heartland. Thanks to the ambitious nature of the offensive, it could be seen as a gauge indicating the measure to which regime forces are capable of coordinating after the severe transformations it has been forced to undergo in the previous years. This is especially true after President Bashar al-Assad vowed to liberate ‘Every Inch of Syria from Terrorism’ in a speech adressed to Syria’s parliament on the 7th of June, five days after the offensive had started.
The offensive appeared to have been timed perfectly to coincide with another major operation taking place against the Islamic State in Northern Syria. This offensive, carried out by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), was aimed at capturing the town of Manbij and the nearby Manbij Pocket. Holding this region is absolutely crucial for the Islamic State, as losing it could also result in losing the last remaining road connection to Turkey. It was previously thought that the Islamic State would prove unable to commit sufficient forces to two entire different fronts so close to each other, but time would eventually show just how false this belief was.
While a successful conclusion of the offensive thus would have seriously hampered the Islamic State’s capabilities to bring in supplies and foreign fighters via Turkey, not to mention the fact that cutting off the Islamic State’s sole remaining road connection to Turkey in general would be a major propaganda victory for the regime, neither the current military situation on the ground nor the state of the regime’s military allowed for such a zealous undertaking. In fact, one could argue that the very existence of this offensive in the first place rather than its catrastophic outcome is representative of the poor state of the regime and its armed forces.
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