Syria: Army Tightens Grip on Fighters in Qusayr
By: Firas Choufi
Published Friday, May 24, 2013
The Syrian army is continuing to advance against opposition fighters in the embattled city of Qusayr, encircling them and cutting them off from one another. Al-Akbar takes a close look at the army’s movements on the ground.
Qusayr – As you approach the city of Qusayr, it appears much like the remains of a post-World War II European city. Every street, house, and tree has been touched by the ferocious battles still underway in its northern neighborhoods.
The regime lost control of this geographically strategic city early on in the crisis, and over the past year and half, opposition groups have amassed thousands of fighters there to maintain control of it.
After systematically taking over the surrounding villages over the past few weeks, government forces turned their attention to Qusayr in mid-May, quickly retaking most the city, with the exception of the northern section, where many of the fighters have retreated to reinforced positions.
According to an officer on the frontlines, the army has corralled the fighters into a triangle linking the northern parts of Qusayr to the villages of Arjun and Dabaa. He explains that they deliberately left an exit for the fighters to force them out of the city. There are reports that large numbers of them have retreated to Dabaa airport, where they can find cover against air strikes and artillery fire.
Another officer on the scene says that the army has now launched an operation to cut off the fighters from one another, and prevent them from sending reinforcements and supplies to those still holed up in Qusayr.
Soldiers serving here seem to be aware of the difficulties ahead. One of them points out that the fighters are mounting a stiff resistance from positions that they have built up over the past year and half. “They have rigged the whole area with explosives and they change their tactics all the time,” he says.
Government forces may resort to heavy fire power, including air strikes to weaken the opposition’s defenses, but their approach on the ground is slow and systematic, taking over small bits of enemy territory and consolidating it before moving on.
Practically speaking, very little in terms of opposition reinforcements has been able to reach Qusayr in the past few days. Military sources report that they have been able to repel several attempts by groups of fighters, particularly from areas near the Lebanese border, to come to the aid of their comrades in the city.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.