4 years ago, in the spring of 2015, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) experienced a critical lack of manpower and was on the verge of extinction. Under the attacks of Jaish Al-Fateh (al-Qaeda branch), Ahrar al-Sham brigades and Islamic State units part of the SAA surrendered the cities of Idlib and Palmyra. But what is characteristic: there were not much more militants than government soldiers, which indicated panic and a decline in morale among the Assad soldiers.
As Al-Masdar News news portal wrote then, “it was a depressing sight.” “How could their front lines collapse so quickly?” Of course, it can be argued that the sleeping cells within these cities gave impetus to the Islamist forces; but how to explain why the Syrian Arab army threw tanks, weapons and other equipment? ”- asked journalist Leith Abufadell from Al-Masdar News.
After taking Idlib, militants “Jaish Al-Fateh” just walked over rough terrain, watching the flight of the soldiers of the regular army. The Syrian Air Force and the jeeps of the ISIL detachments, which were quietly moving across the desert to Palmyra and were clearly visible, did not bomb. And there were no unforeseen circumstances that could justify such a panic mood. It seems that the army leadership has resigned from its obligations to coordinate defense.
Thus, it can be recognized that in the spring of 2015, the SAA de facto ceased to be a real force. Only Assad’s guards and separate army units fought stubbornly for Damascus, and not with numerous and well-organized hordes of militants, but with scattered groups of thugs, among whom there were few truly trained fighters. The main units of ISIS fought in the neighboring country, since they were formed from Iraqi Sunnis, mainly from soldiers and officers of the defeated army of Saddam Hussein.
But today reports from Syria, although they remain alarming because of the events in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, nevertheless indicate a full restoration of the SAA.
March 26, 2019: government forces conduct an operation against ISIS cells in the desert area between Kabajib and Harbish. Ceasefire violations continue to take place in the northern part of Hama, in the western part of Aleppo and in Northern Latakia.
March 25, 2019: SAA units fired on militant positions in Yarjnaz. As a result of the missile strike, 10 enemy fighters were killed. In the area of Al-Hamdaniya in the western part of Aleppo, a Syrian soldier was killed.
Thus, after 8 bloody years, significant changes took place in the Syrian army. In Russia, few people know that the SAA was built on the French model and generally adhered to the NATO rules for the introduction of war. Moscow, both Soviet and post-Soviet, preferred not to share its organizational secrets with Syria. Despite assurances of friendship with Russia, President Bashar Assad focused more on the West, especially since the SAR was a French colony until 1941.
The Syrian military doctrine, apparently, not without advice from the French side, was built with regard to the future war with Israel for the return of the Golan Heights, lost in 1967. In this regard, we can only guess who was preparing the operation to liberate these territories in 1973, when Damascus threw more than 1,000 tanks in a frontal attack against the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Approximately half of the Syrian armored vehicles then was destroyed, as at the site. The offensive was conducted with weak infantry and air support without taking into account the capabilities of the enemy. The conclusions from that slaughter were made by the same losers “strategists” who decided that they simply did not have enough tanks to break through the barrage fire.
And in fact, if you look at how the Syrian government units fought before and after our country entered the war against ISIS, you can see a fundamental difference.
Before the civil war of 2011, the SAA had more than 5,000 tanks, albeit mostly old ones: 2,250 T-55C, 1,000 t-62C and 800 T-54C. However, the armored forces had in their fleet 1620 modern T-72S vehicles.
The Syrian leadership for the suppression of militant units formed powerful (in numbers) tank units from T-55/54: simply because there were a lot of them. However, armored vehicles were often thrown into battle with a weak infantry cover, or even without it. The losses were terrible, which led to a drop in the morale of the tankers.
At least 2,300 Syrian armored vehicles (tanks and armored personnel carriers) were abandoned or destroyed in the first three years of the war. According to Arab observers, as well as according to US military intelligence, about 10% -15% of the pre-war fleet remained in combat readiness in Syria today.
Only with the advent of Russian specialists in Damascus, the situation changed. The success of the SAA in 2016–2019 was achieved through careful planning of infantry attacks, supported by both armored vehicles and motorized rifle units. The most “stubborn” militants destroyed the aircraft and helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Thus, the Syrian military began to focus mainly on the effective use of small groups of tanks, which went into battle not in front, but behind the soldiers.
Apparently, Russian military experts also provided significant assistance in the modernization of the old SAA tank fleet, including the installation of the Kontakt-5 dynamic defense, the V-55U 620-horsepower diesel engine, and the side armored skirt on the T-55. to counter grenade launchers, as well as gun stabilizers and other hardware stuffing. As a result, from the old T-55 they made quite successful T-55M at a speed of 50 km per hour and with a range of travel (without refueling) 450 km.
The T-62 tank was modernized, which the Syrians equipped with one more turret of two curved plates and abdominal armor from mines, was also modernised. According to some information, it was forbidden to send unprotected tanks into battle, not without urgent advice from the RF Ministry of Defense. In general, without increasing the survivability of armored vehicles, including old ones, it would be impossible to crush ISIS.
At the end of 2015, the Syrian army, we recall, received a batch of new Russian tanks T-90 and T-90A, which participated in the liberation of Aleppo. Some of them, according to tankers, were attacked by the American heavy anti-tank missile complex BGM-71 TOW and passed a terrible ordeal. About one such case, it became known from the video hit the Internet.
Thus, the Syrian Arab Army, restored from scratch, has gained tremendous experience in the introduction of hostilities, including in the preparation of complex tactical and strategic operations. At the same time, the main priority of Damascus in foreign policy is still the return of the Golan Heights, at any price, including by military means.
Of course, in Syria, civil strife is still far away, and the soldiers are tired of the eight-year war. However, if the ATS succeeds in overcoming current difficulties, in the future the SAA will become one of the most combat-ready armies in the Middle East. Most likely, the awareness of the new reality led Washington in a hurry to recognize the sovereignty of Tel Aviv over the Golan Heights, which Americans will have to defend in case of an attack by Damascus.