Palmyra offensive (December 2016)
The Palmyra offensive (December 2016) was a military operation launched by the military of ISIL which led to the re-capture of the ancient city of Palmyra, and an unsuccessful ISIL attack on the Tiyas T-4 Airbase to the west of the city. ISIL previously controlled the city from May 2015 until March 2016.
The unexpected blitz offensive occurred concurrently with three major anti-ISIL offensives: the Turkish Western al-Bab offensive and Battle of al-Bab north of Aleppo, the Kurdish-Arab Raqqa campaign, and the Iraqi Battle of Mosul in Iraq, which saw all three gaining ground from the Islamic State.
In January 2017, the Syrian Army and allied forces launched another offensive to recapture Palmyra and its surrounding areas.
ISIL captured the ancient city of Palmyra in May 2015 after the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) withdrew from the town. The Syrian Army recaptured the city in March 2016. The group however still held territory in the eastern Homs Governorate and had started carrying out insurgent attacks on the Syrian Army after losing the city. The city is historically and internationally important and the offensive comes at the same time that ISIL is being targeted militarily at its headquarters of Mosul and Raqqa. Palmyra is also strategically important as it is close to oil fields. The offensive was launched at a moment when the Syrian and Russian militaries were focused on the Aleppo offensive. The Tiyas Military Airbase is near to the city. It is an important security installation for the Syrian Army as it provides them with close air support. It would also be difficult to recapture Palmyra without it.
ISIL capture of Palmyra
ISIL launched the offensive in the northeastern countryside of Homs on 8 December 2016, targeting the SAA's defenses near the village of Huwaysis and the Jazal Mountains located north of Palmyra. The group began the attack by sending two waves of fighters to storm its defenses near Huwaysis, resulting in heavy clashes. It was however unable to penetrate the first line of defense and was forced to withdraw. Local media reported that 60 militants were killed, while eight of their armored vehicles were destroyed.
The group launched another assault later in the day, with simultaneous attacks near the Jazal, Mahr and Shaer oil and gas fields as well as the areas of Huwaysis, Arak, Palmyra Silos, al-Hayyal Mount, al-Sekkary, the ancient al-Hallabat Palace and an abandoned base near the T4 airbase. It was able to capture seven checkpoints from the Army, which withdrew after heavy clashes. In addition, it also captured the al-Hallabat Palace, al-Hayyal Mount, South Sawamea and Huwaysis. At least 34 pro-government fighters were killed and four, including an officer, were captured. With these advances, the group came within 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) of Palmyra. The group also captured grain silos northeast of Palmyra as well as the Jazal village and its oil fields. Meanwhile, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve launched a massive air-raid on an Islamic State fleet of 168 oil tanker trucks, destroying them.
The SAA counter-attacked on 9 December, to recapture the positions it lost the previous day, in addition to bringing in reinforcements and launching airstrikes. 15 soldiers were killed in an ISIL ambush near the Mahr oil field. The Islamic State captured the al-Berej hills, Jihar oil fields, Mahr oil fields as well as a checkpoint near it during the clashes.
On 10 December, Army reinforcements arrived in Palmyra. At least 45 militants were killed by the Army, with three Islamic State tanks destroyed near Palmyra Silos. An earlier assault by the group on the silos had failed, but it was able to capture them later on, thus reaching the entrance to Palmyra. The Russian and Syrian Air Forces targeted ISIL positions in oil fields around Palmyra, destroying several armoured vehicles and a number of technical vehicles. A Syrian Air Force MiG-23 crashed in the Jazal area. ISIL claimed to had shot it down, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported it was not known whether it crashed due to technical fault or was shot down. Clashes also started taking place around Wadi al-Ahmar where the Army brought reinforcements. The group later captured the Tar Mountain to the west of the city, in addition to the northern suburb of Amiriyeh, and entered Palmyra. By the end of the day, they had captured most of the city, including Palmyra Castle, and were on the verge of taking full control of Palmyra. Palmyra's residents were evacuated in the evening by the Army.
Early on 11 December, after the arrival of reinforcements, the Syrian Army, backed by Syrian and Russian air units, launched a successful counterattack to drive out ISIL forces from the city. The militants withdrew to the orchards on the fringes of Palmyra. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, ISIL suffered over 300 dead. However, later in the day, ISIL launched a new assault on Palmyra after regrouping, entering the city once again and capturing Amiriyeh, its hilltop and the Officers Housing complex. Eventually, ISIL took full control of the city as the Army withdrew south of Palmyra.
Attack on Tiyas Airbase
ISIL started advancing westwards from Palmyra to the Tiyas Military Airbase (also called al-Taifor and T4 airbase) after the city's capture on 11 December. The group captured two villages to the west of city during the day. It also captured an abandoned base to the west of the airbase. Early on 12 December, ISIL launched an attack against the strategically important Jihar Crossroad near the airbase, and captured it after heavy clashes. It later captured security checkpoints in the nearby districts of Mashtal and Qasr al-Hir, allowing it to launch an attack against the airbase spearheaded by two car bombs, resulting in an hours-long battle with the entrenched SAA defenders. Aided by numerous Russian airstrikes, the government forces eventually repelled the assault, as ISIL forces regrouped for another attempt at breaching the airbase's defenses. Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-government reinforcements arrived at the frontline, which belonged to the National Defence Forces-affiliated Qalamoun Shield and Golan Regiment. Russia carried out airstrikes against ISIL in Palmyra, killing five people.
The group attacked the airbase again on 13 December, after advancing around it in an attempt to besiege it. Reinforcements from the Syrian Army and Russian special forces arrived to the base later in the day. During the day, ISIL advanced on a checkpoint on the road to Al-Qaryatayn, eventually capturing it and cutting the road. The road was a main supply route for the Syrian Army in Homs Governorate and had been used to supply military reinforcements to the airbase as well as Homs city from Al-Qaryatayn. Meanwhile, an assault by the militants on the Tiyas pumping station during the night was repelled. The clashes renewed on 14 December, with the Army trying to regain areas it previously lost around the airbase. The Army recaptured the Tiyas Mountain as well as the abandoned base located in the north of the airbase after launching a counteroffensive during the early morning. It also regained checkpoints on the road to al-Qaryatayn it had lost a day earlier. ISIL meanwhile captured al-Sharifah village to the west of the airbase. Later that day, ISIL launched another attack on the airbase, but thanks to newly arrived government reinforcements, belonging to the paratrooper forces of the Republican Guard's 800th Regiment, the assault was repelled. The following night, a SAA counter-attack drove ISIL from the airbase's outskirts.
The US-led coalition stated on 16 December that it had carried out airstrikes near the airbase against ISIL on the previous day, destroying the heavy weaponry it seized after recapturing Palmyra. An air defense artillery system, 14 tanks, three artillery systems, two ISIL-held buildings and two tactical vehicles were destroyed in total. The strikes reportedly killed at least 38 militants. The Syrian Army launched another counterattack on 16 December, recapturing the Qaryatayn-T4 crossroads area. They later also recaptured the road between al-Sharifah and al-Qaryatyn and reopened the direct route between al-Qaryatayn and the airbase. Umar As'ad, a leader of ISIL, was killed in the clashes. The Army recaptured a checkpoint near al-Qaryatayn on 17 December. Another attack by ISIL later in the day was repelled, while the Army captured Al-Sha'arah Hills to the north of the abandoned base. ISIL launched another attack on the airbase on 19 December and shot down a Russian helicopter. The attack failed with 36 ISIL fighters being killed. At least 20 pro-government fighters were killed in it while a helicopter was shot down, leaving its two pilots dead. Clashes took place between the two sides on outskirts of Abu Kala Dam as well as other areas near the airbase on 20 December. ISIL was also repeatedly attacking the abandoned base in order to retake it. On 22 December, ISIL launched another attack in the morning, which failed. The militants launched another assault later on, which was also repelled. The group was then driven back to Palmyra. At the same time, a US airstrike killed the leading ISIL commander for the Palmyra frontline, Amr As'ad.
Aftermath – sporadic clashes and SAA counteroffensive
Sporadic clashes continued to occur around the airbase, with 13 soldiers killed in an ISIL attack on al-Sharifa on 24 December. ISIL launched another assault on 26 December, storming the Syrian Army's position west of the Badiyah area of Palmyra and then on its positions north of the Sha'rah Hills before being repelled. Clashes broke out again near the airbase and al-Sharifa during the day, with the Syrian Army advancing in the area. On 29 December, the Syrian Army secured the strategic Tell Shurifah hilltop on the road between al-Qaryatayn and the airbase. The same day, ISIL claimed to have destroyed 11 Syrian Army tanks in clashes ongoing since the previous day. Later, the Syrian Army reportedly recaptured Sharifah village. Clashes were reported in the area on 31 December, with pro-government forces trying to recapture the village.
Clashes re-erupted on 2 January 2017, around al-Sharifah and the airbase in addition to the Fourth Station. On 4 January, it was reported that ISIL was withdrawing from the areas around the Tiyas airbase. Some clashes continued near the airbase after 5 January.
On 12 January 2017, the Syrian Army launched the Eastern Homs offensive to retake Palmyra.
On 12 December 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented that the Islamic State's offensive in Palmyra may have been "orchestrated" to distract forces from militants in eastern Aleppo, and ISIL's reinforcements then moved from Mosul to Palmyra via routes which could have been blocked by the US-led coalition's aviation. A spokesman for Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov stated that the Islamic State made use of pause in the Mosul and Raqqah offensives to shift reinforcements to Palmyra, and that ISIL were sure that these offensives would not be immediately renewed. Konashenkov commented that the government setbacks at Palmyra shows that the Islamic State should not be allowed to regroup.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated that the proof of Russia's stated aim of targeting militants in Syria being false lay in reports that ISIL had retaken Palmyra, while accusing it of being there to save Assad's government and "making Aleppo fall".
- Amir Toumaj (15 December 2016). "IRGC officers killed in Palmyra". Long War Journal. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- "Hezbollah reinforcements pour into Palmyra countryside". Al-Masdar News. 16 December 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
- "Syrian Army foils major ISIS attack on T4 Military Airport in Homs". ARA News. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
- The New Arab & agencies. "Islamic State recaptures Palmyra after Syria army withdrawal".
- The regime forces shell the area around Inkhel and casualties in the regime forces’ ranks in the vicinity of T4 airbase
- Clashes in the vicinity of the T4 airbase and aerial bombardment on several areas in the eastern desert of Homs and aid dropped on Deir Ezzor 5 January 2017
- قوات النظام تتقدم نحو الحقول النفطية في شرق حمص في اليوم السادس من تقدمها بعد أسابيع من الفشل في استعادة ما خسرته لصالح تنظيم “الدولة الإسلامية”
- Syrian Army makes massive advances against ISIS in west Palmyra
- Syrian War Update – Palmyra Front (February 3, 2017): Pro-Government Breakthrough, Jihar Liberated
- Large Syrian Army attack pays off as ISIS loses several sites in western Palmyra
- Syrian Army liberates Hayyan Gas Fields in west Palmyra
- Field Report: Syrian Army overruns ISIS in east Homs [+Map]
- Haytham Mustafa (17 December 2016). "American airstrike kills ISIS commander near Palmyra". ARA News. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
- "ISIS 'war committee' member killed in airstrike near Raqqa". Rudaw. 29 December 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
- "Isis security chief in Homs province among several killed in latest Syrian air force strikes". IB Times. 12 January 2017.
- "بالصور: حامية مطار التيفور.. واخر التطورات في تدمر" (in Arabic). Al-Hadath News. 17 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (17 December 2016). "Top ISIS official killed near Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (20 December 2016). "The fall of Palmyra: Chronology of the events". Al-Masdar News.
- The tiger reach Homs countryside to lead military operations against IS
- "Two pilot officers killed, one of them is a "brigadier"". SOHR. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
- "ISIS has killed Brigadier General Hussein Khader at Tiyas Airbase". Retrieved 20 December 2016.
- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (17 January 2017). "Quwat Dir' Al-Qalamoun: Shifting Militia Links". Syria Comment. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
- "Major Sanchirov from Kalmykia were killed in Syria during the defense of Palmyra from the militants". Last news from Russia. 20 December 2016. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
- "IS kills an Iranian commander in Tadmur". SOHR. 15 December 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (24 December 2016). "The Fifth Legion: A New Auxiliary Force". Syria Comment. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
- Tomson, Chris (11 December 2016). "ISIS fully retakes Palmyra in stunning blitz offensive – Map update". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (16 December 2016). "Elite Syrian Army unit parachutes into Palmyra countryside". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
- Tomson, Chris (12 December 2016). "Reinforcements arrive near Palmyra as Syrian Army regroups for counter-offensive (Photos)". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (12 December 2016). "Syrian Army repels first ISIS assault on T-4 Airbase, prepares for a second wave". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (13 December 2016). "Reinforcements pour into Palmyra countryside as Syrian Army attempts to push back ISIS". Al-Masdar News.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (11 December 2016). "Syrian Army counterattacks on Palmyra outskirts in order to secure the city".
- Albin Szakola (16 December 2016). "Hezbollah deploys to Palmyra front: report". NOW. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- "The Inside Source on Twitter".
- Fadel, Leith (8 December 2016). "ISIS suffers heavy casualties in failed offensive north of Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (10 December 2016). "Battle of eastern Homs continues as ISIS keeps attacking: map update". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Russian and Syrian forces drive ISIL out of Palmyra". Al Jazeera. 11 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (26 December 2016). "Syrian Army kills scores of ISIS terrorists at strategic airport in west Palmyra". Al-Masdar News.
- "تنظيم "الدولة الإسلامية" يستعيد ضاحية العامرية بأطراف مدينة تدمر ويكبِّد النظام أكثر من 120 قتيل وعشرات الجرحى". SOHR. 11 December 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
- "62 soldiers killed by clashes around the T4 military airport". SOHR. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- Thomas Joscelyn (13 December 2016). "Jihadis celebrate capture of Russian base in Palmyra, Syria". Long War Journal. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
- Leith Fadel. "Official: Syrian Armed Forces Withdraw from Ancient City of Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- Associated Press (27 March 2016). "Syrian forces retake historic city of Palmyra from Islamic State". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
- Josie Ensor (9 December 2016). "Islamic State advances to within two miles of Palmyra after surprise attack on Syrian forces". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
- Sirwan Kajjo (9 December 2016). "In Surprise Attack, IS Fights to Retake Ancient Palmyra". Voice of America. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
- "Islamic State fighters 're-enter ancient Palmyra' in Syria". BBC. 10 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "After retaking Palmyra, ISIS assaults T4 Airbase near Syria's Homs". ARA News. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
- "Syrian reinforcements prevent ISIS from taking Palmyra airbase". Rudaw. 14 December 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
- "IS kills 26 Syria regime fighters in Homs: monitor". Indian Express. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- The “Islamic State” advances in new places at Palmyra area in the eastern desert of Homs
- Violent and large-attack by the “Islamic State” in Palmyra on sites of the regime forces and on ancient Palace causes tens of casualties and injuries
- Fadel, Leith (8 December 2016). "Second attack proves successful for ISIS as they seize Huwaysis in northeast Homs". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Islamic State makes advances towards Palmyra: monitor". Reuters. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Islamic State seizes more ground near Syria's Palmyra - monitoring group". Reuters. 9 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (8 December 2016). "ISIS seizes key oil field northwest of Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Coalition destroys 168 ISIS oil tankers near Palmyra". ARA News. 10 December 2016. Archived from the original on 13 December 2016.
- "Islamic State jihadists kill 49 Syria regime fighters near Palmyra: monitor". Hindustan Times. 9 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- IS advances in Homs countryside over regime forces, and continued clashes in the area
- "Islamic State militants enter Palmyra after heavy fighting: monitor". Reuters. 10 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- Fadel, Leith (10 December 2016). "ISIS reaches Palmyra's gates as the Syrian Army attempts to hold the city". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "The Latest: IS says it shot down Syrian jet near Palmyra". Daily Mail. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- The Latest: IS says it shot down Syrian jet near Palmyra
- "Islamic State re-enters Syria's Palmyra". Xinhua. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- Russian warplanes target IS in Tadmur and IS takes almost full control on the city
- Fadel, Leith (10 December 2016). "Ancient city of Palmyra on the verge of capture by ISIS". Al-Masdar News.
- "Palmyra Residents Evacuated, Syrian Army Fighting Daesh in Suburbs - Source". Sputnik News.
- "Isil retakes historic city of Palmyra". Daily Telegraph. 10 December 2016.
- "Syrian official says Palmyra falls again to Islamic State". Reuters. 11 December 2016.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (11 December 2016). "ISIS terrorists launch another assault on Palmyra capturing several sites". Al-Masdar News.
- Fadel, Leith (11 December 2016). "ISIS seizes two villages west of Palmyra". Al-Masdar News.
- Fadel, Leith (12 December 2016). "ISIS seizes important crossroad near Syrian Air Force base". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- "Russia, Syria fail to dislodge Daesh from Palmyra". Middle East Monitor. 12 December 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
- Airstrikes target the eastern countryside of Homs and the “Islamic state” targets T4 airbase again
- Russian backups for regime forces in Taifur military airport
- Continued clashes around al_Taifor military airport
- "ISIS militants cut off regime supply route in Syria's Homs". ARA News. 14 December 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Adra, Zen (14 December 2016). "Field report: Syrian Army fights off ISIS near key airbase". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Continued clashes around al_Taifor military airport
- Continued clashes in Homs countryside and around Taifor military airport
- "بالفيديو: شاهد لماذا يعزف الجيش السوري داخل مطار التيفور؟" (in Arabic). Al-Hadath News. 14 December 2016.
- The “Islamic State” achieves a new advancement in the eastern countryside of Homs and clashes continue near the T4 airbase
- "Syrian reinforcements prevent ISIS from taking Palmyra airbase". Rudaw. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- "Coalition strike destroys IS-captured weapons near Palmyra". New Indian Express. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- "Coalition strikes near Palmyra killed 38 militants: monitor". The Daily Star. 18 December 2016.
- Yakovlev, Ivan (16 December 2016). "Field report: Syrian Army counterattacks in east Homs, recaptures several sites". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Clashes in the Syrian Desert and airstrikes target Palmyra Desert, shelling target the countryside of Quneitra and casualty in the countryside of Daraa
- Fadel, Leith (18 December 2016). "Syrian Army advances in western Palmyra after foiling massive ISIS offensive". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- Adra, Zen (19 December 2016). "Field report: ISIS reportedly shot down Russian helicopter near T4 airbase". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- "ISIS Launch Large Scale Assault on the T4 Airbase". The Inside Source. 19 December 2016. Archived from the original on 22 December 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
- The “Islamic State” shoots down a helicopter and kills its crew and other 20 regime forces’ members in violent attack on T4 airbase
- Clashes in Palmyra countryside and in the vicinity of T4 airbase, and casualty on Harasta highway
- "ماذا يحدث الآن في مطار التيفور..؟" (in Arabic). Al-Hadath News. 21 December 2016.
- 62 soldiers killed by clashes around the T4 military airport
- "Syrian Army kills scores of ISIS terrorists at strategic airport in west Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. 26 December 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
- Clashes breakout on many fronts of Homs countryside
- "Syrian Army secures important hilltop at Al-Qaryatayn-Tyas Road. Intense fighting ongoing". South Front. 29 December 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
- "Syrian Army liberates new village in Palmyra". Al-Masdar News. 30 December 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- "SAA captured Sharifah village near T4. Eastern Homs".
- Continued clashes around the T4 military airport and 4 SDF mourned in Kobane
- Continued shelling by the regime forces accompany the advancement attempts in Palmyra desert and shelling by the regime forces on the countryside of Daraa
- Clashes renewed in the Syrian Desert in the countryside of Homs and shelling on the southern countryside of Aleppo
- "ISIS abandons offensive in west Palmyra, mass retreat towards Raqqa". Al-Masdar News. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
- "Syrian Army Intensifies Military Operations West Of Palmyra. ISIS Units Retreat – Reports". South Front. 4 January 2016. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
- Attack by the “Islamic State” on sites in the eastern countryside of Homs 8 January 2017
- Raids by warplanes on the eastern desert of Homs and bombing cause casualties and injuries in the eastern countryside of Aleppo 8 January 2017
- Arah el Deeb and Zeina Karam (12 December 2016). "Syria rebels retreat in Aleppo in 'terrifying' collapse". The Associated Press. Retrieved 12 December 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
- Polina Devitt in Moscow and Aleksandar Vasovic (12 December 2016). "Russia's Lavrov says Syria talks with US at dead end". Reuters. Retrieved 12 December 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
- "New ISIS offensive on Palmyra proves terrorists should not be given chance to regroup – Russian MoD". RT. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Robin Emmott (12 December 2016). "Russia guilty of 'constant lies' over Aleppo, France says". Reuters. Retrieved 13 December 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)