The Syrian regime is pouring reinforcements into combat in an effort to halt the rebel advances in the north. This latest operation is meant to rescue beleaguered loyalist units who are in danger of being cut off in an over extended pocket projecting deeply into enemy lines, known as a salient. The rebel advances continue, but at a slower pace as the regime mobilizes its reserves and rushes forces to Idlib and Hama provinces. These regime units are executing efforts to counterattack the rebels and link up with forces in the salient.
Spearheaded by the 106th Republican Brigade, regime units have begun their assault against rebel units with mixed results thus far. It is critical for the regime to secure the supply lines into isolated and besieged loyalist-held territory in Idlib where the remnants of the 11th Armored Division and the Tiger Forces are located. Once supply lines to these forces are firmly established, the regime can then decide whether to pull out of Idlib or to maintain its position there.
Maintaining loyalist presence in Idlib would prove costly, but it prevents the rebels from using the province as a springboard to launch more offensives. If the northern rebels solidify their base in Idlib — and they still have to defeat the remaining loyalist forces in the province to do so — they will be in a position to push their offensives in three different directions: westward into Latakia, southward into Hama and eastward toward the ongoing battle of Aleppo. Then the problem for the government is not knowing what the rebels will choose next.
The rebels had previously made stunning gains against the regime in Idlib province in a series of surprise offensives. First they took Idlib city, the capital of the province, on March 28 after only four days of battle. In the latest offensive since then, the rebels have managed to seize a number of critical areas from the regime and largely isolate its remaining positions in Idlib.
The rebels have greatly benefitted from an abundance of anti-tank guided missiles, including American made TOW missiles, in their operations. These missiles, alongside greater fighting prowess and astute use of terrain, have allowed the rebels to outfight the loyalist forces in Idlib. These same factors will make it very difficult for the newly arrived loyalist forces to turn the tide of the battle.
That will not stop the loyalists from trying, however. We can expect the regime to put pressure on the rebels in the al-Ghab plain to eventually secure access to the regime forces in the M4 highway in Idlib. The regime will benefit from its preponderance in artillery and armor and its advantage in air power. Such an offensive, however, will be very difficult against dug in rebels with anti-tank missiles in favorable defensive terrain. If the rebels can decisively destroy these loyalist forces, it would be a significant blow to the regime, as they represent a large portion of its already overstretched forces. The next days will determine if the regime can succeed in saving its loyalist forces in Idlib from an even bigger catastrophe.