By Patrick Bahzad - situation as of October 13th 2015, 5 am EDT
Although the situation is fluid, and rebel factions have been able to hold their lines despite massive artillery fire by the SAA, a few conclusions can already be drawn from the current operations:
- The Rastan enclave is going to fall. SAA units engaged in the fighting are currently trying to cut the enclave in two, through its middle. If/when they succeed, they will then clear the remaining rebel pockets. Control of this area is vital for any further operation, as the strategic M5 highway goes right through it and will be needed, should the main and ultimate offensive against Aleppo ever take place,
- In the North Hama salient, rebel groups equipped with TOW missiles managed to repel SAA armour and destroyed a number of government vehicles (MBTs and APCs). SAA troops again are trying to cut off the rebels entrenched in the salient from their supply lines further North, before clearing the conquered area from the remaining groups. This operation also is part of a larger objective, aimed at retaking control of the central corridor, in order to start preparations for the main drive into Idlib and - potentially - Aleppo province,
- The offensive on the Ghab plain is supported by heavy artillery and conducted by armoured SAA units. Given the nature of the terrain, the equipment of the rebels (ATGMs) and their camouflaged and entrenched positions, progress seems to be slow. There is no doubt however that superior firepower on the ground, combined with RuAF strikes will decide this battle as well and Ghab plain will fall into Syrian government hands. It is likely that any SAA advance into the Ghab plain will be followed-up by similar operations in the Jabal al-Zawiya, the mountainous terrain just further East, which commands access to defensive rebel positions North of Hama and constitutes a potential launch pad for future operations towards Idlib. The duration of ground operations in these areas will be a good indicator of the offensive potential of the current Russian/Syrian(+ Hezbollah/Iranian) coalition.
Overall, the outcome of the current operations in the three areas mentioned above is clear. Whether the various rebels groups have thrown everything they got into these battles is hard to say, therefore no assessment can be made as to how their fighting capabilities will be affected by the coming defeat.
It is also worth mentioning that once SAA units will have managed to break through rebel defences, this might cause a disorganised retreat of the trapped rebel units. That moment of the battle could be crucial, as it might be the starting point to a massive artillery barrage (MRLs) and large RuAF airstrikes, resulting in crippling casualties among rebel ranks.
As far as the number of direct hits through rebel TOW missiles is concerned, this is likely to increase the ongoing installation of electro-optical jammers (Shtora type) on SAA MBTs and APCs, which could be a potential game changer as such, given that it would significantly reduce the effectiveness of the rebels' most potent weapon in the current engagements.
Finally, regarding the next move of the Russian/Syrian troops, and although it is not too difficult to guess what they are up to, a lot will depend on the momentum they will manage to build up (or not) in the ongoing operations. Therefore, no predictions or forecasts yet.