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23 March 2016


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Claims of SAA capturing Tadmor are probably premature. They would imply a total collapse of Da'esh resistance within the last 24 hours- desirable, but unlikely.

What does appear to have been achieved is the capture of the Qatari Royal Villa, that was being used by Da'esh as a training centre.

Latest maps eg http://imgur.com/BPRjDh7 show battle line as still to the west of the Palmyra archaelogical zone, much less in Tadmor itself.


I reckon one reason for prioritizing this theatre on the part of SAA and allies is that maintaining LOC has become equally as difficult, if not more so, for ISIL themselves. Parallel to Palmyra, Qaryatayn appears to get ever more pressure as well, going by al-Masdar and how militarymaps.info is laying out things:


Meanwhile, the insurgents in Idlib-province and elsewhere appear incapable to mount any successful offenses, even after Russian reduction of air assets. Which would contradict certain assumptions that there's no spine left in Syrian troops themselves without the Russian "big brother". Also, not engaging with the insurgents in Idlib as well as further down south avoids the agitprop-front lighting up - "indiscriminate bombing", "siege soup" yada yada etc. - as that is a card ISIL can't play themselves and noone is seriously willing to do for them.
And as ISIL is getting hammered, the other insurgents are left paralyzed by a disheveled command and alliance structure and infighting amongst their own ranks, ISIL-joiners included:




You are a Syrian living in Canberra? Will you be pleased or displeased when the SAA completes its re-occupation of Tadmur City? pl



You are quite right I think in pointing to disintegration of IS supply lines as they are systematically deprived of populated centers. There is not much to eat out in the open desert. thanks. pl


Col. Lang,

What would explain the shift? Are they trying to beat the Coalition to Raqqa?

- Eliot



It may be a race, like Patton racing Montgomery to Palermo or there may be coordination with the US s a more or less silent partner. pl


Time is important.
Cleaning Aleppo and Idlib will take a lot of time and will be done anyway.
Deir el Zor is daily under attack and the lost of it would be catastrophic.
Militarly and even more politically.
Palmyra is in the middle of the desert, no reinforcement allowed for ISIS.
I would have recommanded as COA to encircle and bypass Palmyra and go east.
Phase 1: Join the SAA forces in Deir el zor
Phase 2: Set a firm line of defence along Euphrate river up to Tabqa and Assad lake.
Phase 3: Clear Palmyra already cut from their LOC.
It's seems that 5 or 6000 SAA soldiers are already around Palmyra, a ground force sufficient to realize this operation.
What we don't know is "intel" but I'm quite sure that SAA and russian advisers got it. Transfer of ground force from Syria to Iraq has, maybe, already begun.
The logistical problem is real but can be resolved using the 2 km airstrip and taxiway of Deir el Zor
Imo SAA, except ammunitions, need far less logistical support than ours modern armies.



Perhaps the SAA has studied Gen. Jackson? "Once you get them running, you stay right on top of them, and that way a small force can defeat a large one every time."

Chris Chuba

"Qaryatayn appears to get ever more pressure as well"

Barish, yes indeed, I love militarymaps.info as well, especially the terrain feature. After looking at Palmyra, I now appreciate what an important road nexus it is between east / west Syria, losing it would definitely isolate Qaryatayn. As you mentioned, I have noticed that the SAA has been applying steady pressure there as well.

The other thing I noticed is that the SAA not only captured a mtn ridge west of Palmyra but they are capturing heights north of it as well. If the SAA succeeds in doing that then where are the liver eaters going to run? The area south and east looks like flat desert. I admit that I am a complete and total amateur but chasing a retreating force across an open desert looks like a dream come true; especially if you have an air force. I just hope that there are no sandstorms scheduled to pop up.

As stretched as the SAA may be, I bet that they have better equipment to chase than ISIS has to run if it comes down to a chase.


I guess the SAA will want to wait until the Geneva talks break down before any big move in Aleppo or Idlib. They'll be manoeuvring to try and put the blame on the rebels (probably futile, but still).

I'm really surprised the ceasefire is holding this well - I remember the countless Lebanese ceasefires that usually lasted a day or two.

Bill Herschel

Does anyone know who Edward Bernays was? To those of you who say, Yes, I heap ashes on my head and admit a life of ignorance. To those of you who say, No, I say that he was probably the most influential "American" to have ever lived.

And I don't believe I am off-topic. I have read this post and the comments following it for a very simple reason. I don't, anymore, expect to be told the truth by the New York Times. And I now find out that systematic deception and manipulation in the public discourse can be traced to some great extent to one man, Edward Bernays. Let's say he is the patron saint of the Borg.

I recommend the Wikipedia page describing him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays

Here's a quote:

"Bernays, working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, was influential in promoting the idea that America's war efforts were primarily aimed at "bringing democracy to all of Europe". Following the war, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, he wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peacetime. Due to negative implications surrounding the word propaganda because of its use by the Germans in World War I, he promoted the term public relations. According to the BBC interview with Bernays' daughter Anne, Bernays believed that the public's democratic judgment was "not to be relied upon" and feared that the American public "could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above." Anne interpreted "guidance" to mean that her father believed in a sort of "enlightened despotism"."


His classic book "Propaganda" http://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Edward-Bernays/dp/0970312598/ is a short and easy to read text on propaganda. Highly recommended! It is written as if this is the next greatest science of mass persuasion. Which it was. And it's the basis of much advertising as well. The word propaganda later morphed into "public relations" which sounds much less sinister.

Of course propaganda has been around as long as humans have tried to mold the opinions of other humans, even if it went by other terminology...
The Story of Propaganda https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/the-story-of-propaganda

Bernays simply gave it a more modern and scientific veneer. Bernays also referred to it as the "engineering of consent". Later folks have use the phrase "the manufacturing of consent."

James Vanasek

Col. Lang,

I hope that a professor or two up that the Army War College is taking notes on how the Russian general in charge is conducting the campaign suing a finite ground force. Simply brilliant.

First, you take time to rebuild the SAA while using your air superiority to hammer ISIS and other rebel supply lines, particularly cutting them off from oil income. Then, divide and conquer. Focus your attack on the weakest of the rebel groups, pushing on a number of fronts in the NW until the enemy cracks and you exploit a weak spot. Next, complete the encirclement of the cauldron, declare a cease fire and watch the enemy factions fight each other, defect to your side, or continue to get weaker as they are cut off from reinforcement/supply while you win a PR victory in the media.

This calming of the action on the Aleppo/NW front, also allows you to take advantage of interior lines to shift your main spearhead forces south and attack at Palmyra while ISIS is facing pressure from the Kurds in the north. Then while ISIS is worried about that, get the Iranian assisted Shia militia to attack Mosul (with tacit Kurdish & US support), and now ISIS is in a real pickle.

I'm guessing that they don't have the command and control capability to deal with so many simultaneous threats and if they were able to shift forces from one front to the other, that puts their men out in the open where they can be more easily bombed while in transit than if dug in on a static front.

Now Col Lang, if you were the ISIS leader and saw this happening, what could you do to prevent it?

If it were me, I'd try to get Turkey involved as quickly as possible to reopen my supply lines and use the threat of a greater conflict to freeze the situation. Or perhaps provoke the US into having a much heavier ground presence perhaps with a Brussels/Paris style attack in the US so as to turn the focus of the war against us infidel "occupiers"???

I think all of us would be curious to hear your thoughts.


James Vanasek

What is it that Owen Thursday asks in "Ft. Apache?" Ah, "what staff college did Cochise study at?" So far it is brilliant, just brilliant. I'll think of an answer. pl


Of course! Henshaw is a traditional Syrian surname. I'm hoping that SAA can clear Tadmur of Da'esh ASAP, consistent with minimum military/civilian casualties. Same for the rest of Syria.

I've seen some reports from inside Tadmur claiming that many of the defending Da'esh force are teenagers, rather than older, seasoned troops. If so, it could all be over sooner rather than later- Da'esh withdrawing their more valuable fighters?

As of about 0730UTC, SAA is reported as closing on the Semiramis Hotel, approx 3.5km up the road from the Qatari Villa. This suggests rapid progress by SAA.

From there, Google tells me that it is about a further 2km to the edge of the Palmyra archaeological zone, and a further 1km to Tadmur itself.


Admittedly, I only heard about Edward Bernays about 6 months ago,
and was stunned after googling him. He turned intuitive and
instinctive cunning into a science. He believed in "enlightened
despotism"?. Problem is, the enlightenment evaporates very quickly
and the despotism stays. How about "distributed despotism",
or whatever?
Whilst this is a militarily oriented blog, IMHO a slightly
stronger emphasis on philosophal background wouldn't hurt either.
Thank you Bill Herschel.



The first term of your e-mail address indicates a Syrian connection. The Semiramis Hotel? An interesting thought. I suppose it was run by the Cairo hotel of the same name? The teenager thing is temptingly logical. The notion that the anti-Cochise has thought this through to a logical conclusion that IS is going to lose its foothold in Northern Arabia and has begun a large scale movement of seasoned assets (those not gone full shahiid yet?) to Libya, Yemen, the EU or Turkey is also quite tempting. I hope so but hope must be tested in the field. pl

Peter Reichard

In an earlier post I suspected this line of attack but wondered if the SAA had the logistic capability. Perhaps ISIS logistics are more to the point and the SAA senses ISIS is near collapse. As in financial panics and momentum in team sports the mass psychology of armies,especially when in retreat,is difficult to predict. Few have the discipline or grit of the French in 1914 or the Red Army in 1941. The rebels are a rabble with no central chain of command. There is no charismatic leader to hold them together like a Mao or George Washington. They lack mountains or forests to hide in and in the cities lack popular support. When the ammunition runs low they will begin fighting among themselves. When faced with martyrdom the great adventure of jihad may suddenly seem not so attractive to the foreign volunteers and as desertions mount so too will mass executions for desertion. The whole enterprise may fall apart with a suddenness that shocks the world. With the peace talks, terrorism in the West, the refugee crisis and US elections at hand they need to get this over with soon. In spite of the
risks the time to strike a fatal blow to ISIS may be now.


Peter Reichard

Yes, we may be a approaching the Culminating Point of this Campaign. http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Articles/1985/1985%20lang%20hennessee%20bush.pdf

This old article may be useful. pl


How about "distributed despotism",

We are there already, go on Twitter and say something "not correct"...

William R. Cumming

P.L.! and ALL: Hypothetically if the US could have its choice of Iraq or Syria for an effective outcome of its FP and military/security policy which geographic/political area is of more importance to the U.S.? I would choose Iraq mainly for oil/gas and strategic location but I understand it is dominated by Iran and Shia, not KSA or the Sunni.

Babak Makkinejad

Likely, SAR will use the damage done to the archeological sites of Palmyra as a form of propaganda; telling the world, in effect: "Do you want this?"

SAR would be right on this matter; without a doubt, many of the denizens of Molenbeek - given the chance - would destroy all paintings, sculptures and other works of art in Belgium - destroying musical instruments and banning singing by women as well.

And as they go, so will the neo-Salafis and other Jihadist fellow-travelers.


I believe I've quoted Bernays on this blog before. He was a nephew of Freud, and, along with Walter Lippmann, the first to bring a knowledge of mass psychology to the art of popular persuasion. He was responsible for things as diverse as children's menus in restaurants (client Waldorf-Astoria), the fact that we think bacon and eggs is the all-American breakfast, and the propaganda film that led to the CIA overthrow of the Guatemalan government. He also provided the blueprint for Goebbels, who respected him immensely. He was personally quite odious, and his disdain for many cherished ideals (such as the notion of freedom of choice) led to him being intellectually shunned.

ISIS are good students of Bernays, incidentally. In particular, they use a strategy in which you create a signature narrative event (usually an atrocity) and back it up with continuous engagement (social media outreach). The idea is that event gives their social media recruiters a continuous narrative that's persuasive because it seems to be true. You're making the news that supports your argument.

In fact, during the war game a while back, I used an analysis of this technique to make my predictions. Not that you couldn't have come to the conclusion in other ways, or that the events wouldn't have happened anyway, but I predicted that when it faced reverses on the battlefield, IS would not be able to provide the narrative events it required from Syria and Iraq. In response, it would activate its affiliates in other places to commit atrocities, silence critics, and strike in Europe. In the timeframe we were discussing, the Paris attacks and the downing of the Russian airliner occurred. Critics were also assassinated in Turkey. Like I said, you didn't need Bernays to predict that ISIS would eventually strike overseas, but the timing was interesting.

Bill Herschel

Russian helicopters don't seem to fear ISIS manpads. Tempting to believe that they dealt with the same manpads and the same people during Chechnya II. In any case, I wouldn't want to be an ISIS fighter around Palmyra right now. Far easier to blow up unarmed people in an airport check-in area.



Unfortunately a fatal blow requires more than Syria and Iraq, but also at least Libya.

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