Reports from Front Indicate Syrian, Russian Push in Idlib
Residents, army deserters and opposition figures were quoted on Friday as saying that elite government troops and Iran-backed militias supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were making serious inroads in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib. They said that aerial support was being provided primarily by Russian warplanes, with assistance by aircraft from the Syrian military. Opposition sources told the Reuters news agency that the elite ground units included the Republican Guard, considered Assad’s personal troops. They are led by his brother, Maher al-Assad, and are primarily entrusted with protecting the capital, Damascus. “There are daily reinforcements coming from the Iranian militias, elite Republican Guard units and Fourth Armored Division,” Reuters quoted a rebel commander, Mustafa Bakour, as saying. The ground offensive is notable because it reportedly includes Russian troops, although mostly in an advisory and command capacity. “The Russians have now moved to depending on the Iranians and elite army formations in this campaign,” Bakour said. Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011, and it was only with Russian backing starting in late 2015 that Assad became able to recoup much of the territory lost to a wide variety of rebel groups.