Why Palmyra was again in the hands of terrorists

Monday, December 12, forces of the banned terrorist group ISIS went on the offensive from Palmyra to West direction, according to the Arabic newspaper “al-Mazdar”. Palmyra terrorists have taken control on Sunday. According to the publication, the terrorists also seized the settlements of al-Ballarat and ad-Dawa West of Palmyra and oil field Haiyang. According to Talal Barazi, Governor of HOMS province, which is Palmyra, the city was evacuated 80% of the population.

Massive attack

Sunday, December 11, Talal Barazi in an interview with the Syrian TV station Ikhbariyah acknowledged that the militants of the “Islamic state” (banned in Russia as a terrorist organization) managed to take the city, and the army retreated to the outskirts of Palmyra. Attack on Palmyra began on Thursday, December 8, when the “official media” of the terrorist group “al-Amak” announced the beginning of the attack on the ancient city. In parallel, the Islamists moved through the desert to the North-West of the city, trying to come in behind the government army. Saturday, December 10, the militants took several peripheral quarters of the city, but were forced to retreat after Russian air strikes. Subsequently, the attack began again, and by Sunday evening the whole city was under the control of the Islamists. According to the Agency, al-Masdar, the attack was attended by 4 thousand to 5 thousand of ISIS militants — twice as many as participated in the capture of Palmyra in the spring of 2015 and than tried to hold the city in the spring of 2016. The forces of the government army, continues the Agency, was about 1 thousand soldiers.

A massive movement of ISIS forces confirmed Sunday and the Russian centre for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria. On Sunday, he said that was opened to transfer up to 5 thousand from the area of Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor. According to the Russian center, in these areas, the coalition headed by the USA recently ceased military operations against the terrorists.

After the end of March 2016, the Syrian troops liberated the city, he was attacked by the militants. In mid-September, the ISIS troops are preparing an offensive on the city from the North, was destroyed by Russian aviation. According to the defense Ministry of Russia, then was killed about 250 militants. Separate clashes with militants near Palmyra occurred almost daily.

The failures of the military

The terrorists struck a blow where it was least of all the troops, explains the attack on Palmyra military expert Alexander Goltz. Forces of the Syrian army tightened to Aleppo, there recently was a major battle, the Syrians were trying to achieve with the help of Russia and Iran, a fundamental turning point in this war, and of course, that other areas were weakened, explains the failure of the Syrian military Ivan Konovalov, head of military policy and the economy RISS.

Attention to the sector of the front near Palmyra was minimal, the situation was risky, since on three sides the area is surrounded by rebels, says the Deputy Director of the Institute of political and military analysis Alexander Khramchikhin. The fall of Palmyra associated with the lack of power as the Syrian army and the Russian group. “A very small group [of Russia] being pulled on the whole country and needs all at the same time seeing is impossible. If you use extremely limited power, there will be very limited, even if these forces act very effectively”, — says Khramchikhin.

Failed, according to Konovalova, the Syrian intelligence: the first attack was repulsed, but the intelligence had data about the actual number of militants that became a problem. Russian intelligence capabilities were limited, says Konovalov, Russia is acting as an invited force, the military has certain limitations — in intelligence on earth, the Russians can rely only on the Syrians. According to the former head of the General staff of the Russian army Yury Baluyevsky, the fall of Palmyra contributed to the extended humanitarian pause that allowed the militants to regroup. However, the notion of “the humanitarian pause” is typical of the siege of Aleppo, where the Syrian army is successful. In Palmyra, the control of the Syrian government forces, such pauses were not. By Monday morning, according to the Syrian monitoring centre for human rights (SOHR, based in the UK), troops managed to release from the armed opposition has 90% it previously controlled areas of Aleppo.

The situation in Palmyra will not lead to the emergence in Syria of Russian ground troops, I’m sure Konovalov: the participation of Russians consists only in the actions of HQs, special forces and military advisers, to send land forces there will be no one.

A blow to the image

The Wall Street Journal called the retreat of government forces from Syrian Palmyra “embarrassment” for them and their Russian allies. The publication suggests that the battle for Palmyra will negatively affect the Syrian army, which should be thrown under the ancient city of additional forces. The Guardian notes that the victory of ISIS at Palmyra shows that the organization is still able to mobilize supporters, while Syrian government troops have problems in the long-term control of the country. The newspaper called the fall of Palmyra a second time “shocking” and “sudden”.

Over the five years of civil war in Syria control over Palmyra passed from hand to hand three times. In may 2015, during a massive attack by the militants captured the city and part of the surrounding villages. Less than a year, and in March 2016 the Syrian army with the support of the Russian space forces and Russian special forces freed Palmyra.

The operation was completed on 27 March, and the next day there flew the Russian sappers to demine the liberated city, and State Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky promised to help with the restoration of the monuments of Palmyra — ruins of the ancient city are one of the six world heritage sites of UNESCO in Syria. In early may, the Symphony orchestra of the Mariinsky theatre under the baton Valery Gergiev gave a concert in the ancient amphitheatre of Palmyra. The concert was attended by the friend of the Russian President, cellist Sergei Roldugin. Conductor and cellist in July was awarded the order of Alexander Nevsky for “special merits in the preparation and carrying out important humanitarian foreign policy actions that promote peace and friendship between peoples.”

Concert in Palmyra, the Western media praised as the best demonstration of Russian “soft power”. The action was conducted based on the “world honor”, indicated to Deutsche Welle.

Late spring, work began on restoration of monuments. In summer the Russian experts considered that two priorities — the restoration of the temple Balsamina and the arc de Triomphe — will cost $600 thousand In early December, Piotrovsky proposed to create a single Commission for the restoration of the monuments of Palmyra, which would include and archaeologists working in the city itself. The recovery process was in full swing. At the moment all archaeological expedition successfully evacuated.

With the participation of Polina Khimshiashvili, Sergey Vitko, Yegor Gubernatorova.