Syrian Desert campaign (December 2016–April 2017)

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Syrian Desert campaign (December 2016–April 2017)
Part of the Deir ez-Zor Governorate campaign, inter-rebel conflict during the Syrian civil war, and the International military intervention against ISIL
Free Syrian Army technical in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains.jpg
Top: A Free Syrian Army technical in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains during clashes with ISIL
Bottom: Map of the advances in Southern Syria from 6 February to 30 April; Rebel advancements during the campaign are shown in green.
DateFirst offensive:
29 December 2016 – 8 January 2017
(1 week and 3 days)

Second offensive:
15 March – 2 April 2017
(2 weeks and 4 days)

Third offensive:
20 – 30 April 2017
(1 week and 3 days)

Rebel victory[3]

  • FSA-led rebels capture more than 1,800 square kilometres (~695 square miles) of territory from ISIL[4][5][3]
  • Syrian Army captures more than 300 square kilometres (~116 square miles) of territory from ISIL in north-eastern Suwayda Governorate[6]
  • ISIL expelled from the Suwayda Governorate[5] and the eastern slopes of the Qalamoun mountains[3]

Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army
Eastern Qalamoun only:
Jaysh al-Islam
Ahrar al-Sham[1][2] Authenticity and Development Front
Tahrir al-Sham (pro-government claim)[1]
Supported by:

 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Commanders and leaders

Syrian opposition Abu Hamza al-Tayeb[7]
(Army of Free Tribes field commander)
Syrian opposition Capt. Ahmad Tamer[8]
(Forces of Ahmad al-Abdo commander)
Syrian opposition Talas Salama[9]
(Lions of the East Army general commander)

Syrian opposition Lt. Col. Muhannad Talaa[10]
(Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo commander)
Units involved

Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Military of ISIL

  • Wilayat Damascus
  • Wilayat Suwayda (until April 2017)
Casualties and losses
117 killed[3] 21+ killed[14][15]

The Syrian Desert campaign (December 2016–April 2017) was a military campaign launched by Syrian rebel forces affiliated with the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front and their allies in the southern Syrian Desert and the eastern Qalamoun Mountains. The aim of the offensive was to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from the desert in southern Syria and to open a supply route between two rebel-held areas.[16]

The campaign[edit]

First FSA offensive (December 2016–January 2017)[edit]

Map of rebel advances in the Syrian Desert
Map of rebel advances in the Syrian Desert

On 29 December 2016, Southern Front groups led by the Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo launched an offensive against ISIL positions in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains. The offensive was code named as the "Battle to Restore Dignity" by the rebels.[17] The rebel forces captured the Abu Risha dam as well as five villages.[18] Five days later, the rebels attacked the last bastions of ISIL in the Badia al-Sham area of the desert.[16]

On 3 January 2017, the Army of Free Tribes announced the capture of the Zelaf dam east of as-Suwayda, the village next to it, and an ancient grotto used as a black site by ISIL.[19] On 8 January, the Forces of Ahmad al-Abdo captured more than 18 positions in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains from ISIL.[15]


On 8 February, rebel forces advanced in the eastern Qalamoun, which resulted in heavy clashes with ISIL.[20] On 13 February, rebel forces led by the Lions of the East Army advanced in the as-Suwayda Governorate near the Jordan–Syria border and captured al-Kraa and al-Dayathah from ISIL.[21]

Second FSA offensive (15 March–2 April 2017)[edit]

Free Syrian Army units shoot at ISIL positions in the Qalamoun Mountains during the night.

The Free Syrian Army's Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo Forces launched a night assault between 15 and 16 March against ISIL in the Eastern Qalamoun Mountains. The offensive was launched on two fronts, the eastern Qalamoun Mountains and the Syrian Desert along the Jordan–Syria border. The rebels code-named the former as the "Battle for the Expulsion of Agressors" while the latter was termed the "Saddle of horses".[22][4] The rebels seized several points in the al-Afai Mountain.[1]

Rebel factions attacked ISIL on 18 and 19 March near al-Badia and captured several areas, including a former Scientific Research Battalion base.[23][24][11] They captured several areas including the strategic Mount Naqab on 20 March.[25][26][27] By 21 March, the rebels had captured more than 25 square kilometres of territory in the eastern Qalamoun and more than 1,800 square kilometres overall since the start of the campaign. ISIL forces were routed from the majority of eastern Qalamoun.[13][27] Ahrar al-Sham announced that its fighters had captured al-Afai mountain range.[28]

Rebels continued clashing at a rest stop near Baghdad-Damascus highway, amid advancement for the rebels in the region.[29] It was reported on 24 March that ISIL was withdrawing from southern Syria to focus on the Raqqa offensive and had withdrawn from several areas of eastern Qalamoun without putting up any resistance.[30] Two days later, FSA forces seized three more villages from ISIL near the Iraqi border.[31]

An FSA T-55 in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains during the second phase of the campaign

The Syrian Arab Army, backed up by the National Defence Forces and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, attacked ISIL in the countryside of eastern Suwayda on 26 March as the militants were withdrawing. SAA captured several villages and sites during the advance.[32] The FSA made a large advance at the same time, reaching the front lines with SAA the next day. The FSA announced that they had captured al-Badia area and more than a dozen sites near Bir al-Qasab, which were the main ISIL strongholds in southeastern Syria.[33][34] Many villages including Bir Qasab were captured from ISIL in the rebel advance.[35][36] The rebels captured the Dakwa mountain area on 28 March,[37][38] After midnight, areas in Bir Qasab were targeted by an air raid.[39] The rebel advances fully expelled ISIL forces from the southwestern part of the Syrian Desert.[3]

On 29 March, the rebels announced that ISIL had been expelled from the entire countryside of Damascus. Orient News stated that ISIL had withdrawn from areas of Jabal al-Makhul, Tal Dakwa and its surroundings, al-Qeseb Be'r, al-Seraikhi and Tal al-Dukhan after the Syrian opposition groups attacked them.[40]

ISIL attacked the Al-Tanf military base near the Al Waleed border crossing on 8 April, first striking the base with a car bomb and then attacking both the base and a convoy of the Lions of the East Army with 20-30 infantry. The attack was repelled first by gunfire from the rebels and U.S. special operations forces, then by multiple airstrikes from the anti-ISIL coalition which killed most of the ISIL force and destroyed their vehicles. Rebels stated that four of their fighters and eight ISIL fighters were killed.[41]

Third FSA offensive (20–30 April 2017)[edit]

On 20 April, FSA rebels led by the Lions of the East Army captured Alalianih, along with an abandoned military base, in the Syrian Desert.[42] Four days later, the FSA launched an offensive around the eastern slopes of Qalamoun mountains, targeting the area around the villages of Al-Mahsaa and Abou Al-Shamat in order to lift ISIL's siege on eastern Qalamoun. The official media wings of FSA stated they captured many points during the day.[43]

On 29 April, ISIL launched a counter-attack against the rebels of Osoud Al-Sharqiya in Eastern Qalamoun. The group recaptured several sites in the region.[44][45] The next day, the FSA launched a counterattack in the region and its official media wing later stated that it had recaptured several sites.[46]


Map of rebel advances in Deir ez Zor governorate
Map of rebel advances in Deir ez Zor

During the campaign, some rebel groups started to advance into the Homs and Deir ez-Zor governorates. A rebel spokesman stated that their goal was the expulsion of ISIL from the region and reaching the city of Deir ez-Zor. They would be supported by the anti-ISIL Coalition, rather than having the Syrian Democratic Forces capture it.[47] The FSA also wanted to capture the border town of al-Bukamal, the last border crossing under ISIL control between Iraq and Syria which they had also tried to capture in their failed 2016 offensive.[48]

On 30 April, the Revolutionary Commando Army attacked and advanced into eastern Syria, reaching the Deir ez-Zor Governorate and capturing the village of Humaymah to the south of the T2 pumping station.[47][49] Two days later, the rebels attacked and captured several sites in the region, including: Tarwazeh Al-Wa`er, Sereit Al-Wa`er, Jabal Ghrab, Sawab desert, al-Kamm Sawab, the T2 Pumping Station, Me`izeileh and Tarwazeh al-Attshaneh.[50] On 6 May, the FSA captured several sites in the Badiya region of Homs Governorate to the south of Palmyra including Dahlous and Al-Halbah areas.[51]

On 7 May, the Syrian Arab Army launched an attack on the FSA, in the Badiya region of the southeastern countryside of Damascus,[52] advancing some 45 kilometers along the Baghdad-Damascus highway towards the Iraqi border.[53] On 18 May, a mechanized convoy of SAA soldiers and Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen was struck by several U.S. airstrikes northwest of the Zarqa Junction, destroying 5 tanks and a 1 Shilka, as well as killing 8-12 Iraqi militiamen. The advance along the Damascus-Baghdad Highway was halted.


  1. ^ a b c Chris Tomson (16 March 2017). "Syrian rebels seize multiple sites in mountainous region northeast of Damascus". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Revolutionary Factions Regaining strategic areas of IS Group in Qalamoun". El-Dorar Al-Shamia. 21 March 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Al-Khalidi, Suleiman. "Syrian rebels seize swathes of south as Islamic State retreats".
  4. ^ a b "Opposition to expel "Daesh" of the entire eastern Qalmoun". Al-Modon. 21 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b "ISIS expelled from Sweida province as rebel forces capture large swath of territory". Al-Masdar News. 28 March 2017.
  6. ^ "Syrian forces pummel ISIS in Suweida countryside as they mass withdraw towards Raqqa". Al-Masdar News. 27 March 2017.
  7. ^ "قائد ميداني في أحرار العشائر لقاسيون : طردنا تنظيم الدولة من سد الزلف بريف درعا". Qasioun News Agency. 6 January 2017. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  8. ^ Ahmad Zakaryya (10 February 2017). "Ahmad Al-Abdo Forces: "We Refuse Having Safe Zones If The Intent Is To Divide Syria"". RFS Media Office.
  9. ^ "قائد جيش أسود الشرقية لـ "قاسيون": نسعى من معركة "رد الاعتبار" التمدد نحو شرق سوريا". Qasioun News Agency. 9 January 2017. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  10. ^ "Syrian opposition groups massing in Qalmoun to restore destroy the system and coordinate the participation of Jordanian US". Al-Quds al-Arabi. 12 January 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "FSA Launches a New Battle against IS Group in the Desert of #Syrian". El-Dorar al-Shamia. 19 March 2017. Retrieved 20 March 2017.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Territorial Control Map – Sham Desert" (PDF). Omran Dirasat. 4 January 2017.
  13. ^ a b Paul Antonopoulos (22 March 2017). "VIDEO: Syrian militants continue rapid advance against ISIS in eastern Qalamoun". Al-Masdar News.
  14. ^ "Opposition controls large areas in the eastern Qalmoun after clashes with state regulation". Qasioun News Agency. 20 March 2017.
  15. ^ a b "FSA startles organizing "state" Bakulmon". Baladi News. 8 January 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Qalmoun rebels in control of the last bastions of Daesh Balbadah Levantine". Step News Agency. 3 January 2017.
  17. ^ "Brigades rebels advancing in the sites (Daesh) east of the endosperm". All4Syria. 5 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Free Syrian Army launches large-scale offensive in east Qalamoun". Al-Masdar News. 29 December 2016.
  19. ^ "مغارة عثمانية حولها داعش إلى سجن سري في السويداء". Now News. 6 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Syrian Opposition Carry Out A Wide Offensive Over ISIS Positions Eastern Qalamon". Qasioun News Agency. 8 February 2017.
  21. ^ "Osud al-Sharqiyyah attacks the "Islamic State" organization's controlled areas tens of kilometers east of al-Suwaidaa city and controls 2 areas". SOHR. 13 February 2017.
  22. ^ "A progress for rebels in the battle of Saddle horses in the Syrian desert - Step News Agency".
  23. ^ "Violent clashes in the eastern Qalamoun result in advancement of the factions within a new battle". SOHR. 19 March 2017.
  24. ^ Leith Fadel (19 March 2017). "Rebels overrun ISIL in Syrian Desert". Al-Masdar News.
  25. ^ Paul Antonopoulos (20 March 2017). "Militants capture Jabal Al-Naqab from ISIS in Syria's vast desert region". Al-Masdar News.
  26. ^ "The factions advance in the Eastern Qalamoun and exchange of shelling in Lattakia Mountains". SOHR. 20 March 2017.
  27. ^ a b "VIDEO: Syrian militants continue rapid advance against ISIS in eastern Qalamoun". Al-Masdar News. 21 March 2017.
  28. ^ "Syrian Factions Expel Islamic State from Mountainous Area in Damascus". Latin American Herald Tribune. 21 March 2017.
  29. ^ "الفصائل المقاتلة تواصل هجومها على مواقع تنظيم "الدولة الإسلامية" بالقلمون الشرقي وقصف متجدد على درعا" (in Arabic). SOHR. 22 March 2017.
  30. ^ "ISIL withdrawing fighters from southern Syria to concentrate on Raqqa". al-Masdar News. 24 March 2017.
  31. ^ "Western-backed rebels capture three villages in southern Syria". al-Masdar News. 26 March 2017.
  32. ^ "Syrian forces pummel ISIS in Suweida countryside as they mass withdraw towards Raqqa". al-Masdar News. 27 March 2017.
  33. ^ "Western-backed rebels take control of large parts of eastern Al-Sweida". al-Masdar News. 27 March 2017.
  34. ^ "FSA rebels claim capture of key Islamic State territory in southeastern desert". Syria Direct. 27 March 2017.
  35. ^ "Syrian rebels push into IS-held territories in Syrian desert". The New Arab. 27 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Factions of the battle of "Sarajna al-Jiyad" expel the "Islamic State" organization of more areas of the Syrian Desert and other areas". SOHR. 27 March 2017.
  37. ^ "الفصائل تواصل تقدمها في ريف دمشق الجنوبي الشرقي بعد تقدمها في بير القصب" (in Arabic). SOHR. 28 March 2017.
  38. ^ "Islamist rebels enter eastern Homs amid total Islamic State collapse in East Qalamoun". Al-Masdar News. 28 March 2017.
  39. ^ "Airstrikes target B'er al-Qasab and clashes in the Western Qalamoun". SOHR.
  40. ^ "Opposition fighters: Damascus countryside free from ISIS control". Orient News. 28 March 2017.
  41. ^ Suleiman al-Khalidi (9 April 2017). "Islamic State launches two suicide attacks on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels". Reuters.
  42. ^ ""Free Army" controls "Alalianih" in the Syrian desert". Enab Baladi. 20 April 2017.
  43. ^ Leith Fadel (24 April 2017). "Free Syrian Army launches big offensive in northeast Damascus". Al-Masdar News.
  44. ^ "ISIS counter-offensive devastates rebel forces in East Qalamoun". AMN - Al-Masdar News | المصدر نيوز. 29 April 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  45. ^ "Counter attack by the "Islamic State" organization in the Eastern Qalamoun and airstrikes target the countryside of Aleppo and al-Raqqah city". SOHR. 29 April 2017.
  46. ^ Fadel, Leith (30 April 2017). "Free Syrian Army launches counter-offensive in northeast Damascus". AMN - Al-Masdar News | المصدر نيوز. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  47. ^ a b "جيش مغاوير الثورة لـ "قاسيون": سيطرنا على حميمة ونستعد لدخول دير الزور". Qasioun News Agency (in Arabic). 30 April 2017.
  48. ^ Illingworth, Andrew (5 May 2017). "Syrian War Update – Threats and solutions for 2017 (May 5, 2017): A strategic review". Al-Masdar News.
  49. ^ "المعارضة مدعومة من التحالف الدولي تسيطر على بلدة حميمة بريف دير الزور الجنوبي". Ittihad Press (in Arabic). 30 April 2017.
  50. ^ Yakovlev, Ivan (2 May 2017). "US-backed militants advance deep inside ISIS-controlled Syrian desert". Al-Masdar News.
  51. ^ Leith, Fadel (6 May 2017). "Video footage of FSA troops advancing 70km south of Palmyra". Al-Masdar News.
  52. ^ "Syrian Army begins important operation to prevent US-Jordanian troops from entering Damascus". 7 May 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  53. ^ "Syrian troops shift focus to IS-held east". Retrieved 26 June 2017.