ISIS launched a multi-phase counterattack against the Syrian regime and its allies in Aleppo Province which threatens the regime’s control over its primary ground line of communication (GLOC) to Aleppo City. ISIS seized multiple checkpoints along the highway between the towns of Khanaser and Ithriya in southern Aleppo Province on 23 OCT. These gains blocked the route used by the Syrian regime to deploy reinforcements to Aleppo from Hama and Homs Provinces. ISIS subsequently initiated a major attack targeting the key regime-held town of Safira southeast of Aleppo City. Safira serves as a key node for Iranian military activity in Syria. The town also contains a complex of strategic defense factories implicated in the production of chemical weapons and ‘barrel bombs’ for the Syrian regime. ISIS fighters have reportedly advanced into the far-northern outskirts of Safira despite initial deployments of regime reinforcements to the area.
The advances by ISIS near Aleppo City demonstrate the limited capabilities of the Syrian regime despite expanded support from Iranian-backed proxy groups and Russian airstrikes. ISIS remains unlikely to seize Safira due to the strategic importance of the town to both Iran and the Syrian regime. Nonetheless, ISIS’s counterattacks have successfully forced the regime to assume a defensive posture and deprioritize the ongoing offensive to relieve the besieged Kuweires Airbase. ISIS may intend to exploit this redirection of forces through further attacks against the regime either northeast of Aleppo City or further south in eastern Hama Province. Rebel forces in Aleppo Province also stand to benefit from the redeployment of pro-regime forces away from frontlines south of Aleppo City. The Syrian regime made no significant gains against rebel forces in Aleppo Province over the past four days following major advances last week. Recent intensifications in Russian and Iranian support to the Syrian regime may not be sufficient to force a rapid change in the dynamics of the Syrian Civil War.