After ISIS captured the ancient city of Palmyra and some gas fields in central Homs, the battle gravitated naturally to the Tiyaas Airbase (T4), a vital airbase that is a jumping-off point for air attacks and close air support (CAS) operations against ISIS in eastern Homs, Al-Raqqa and Deir El-Zor. The airbase is adequately staffed and enjoys up-to-date infra-structure and its location is strategically ideal for plans to eradicate ISIS in all the eastern part of Syria.
ISIS and its NATO allies understand the Tiyas airbase’s (T4) importance very well and it was, most likely, their main target on this latest offensive toward Palmyra.
The whole ISIS offensive strategy relied on bad weather (dense fog) and huge numbers of VBIEDs. Under better meteorological conditions, close air support (CAS) would have prevented the blitzkrieg-type of attack from 3 directions which cut off the Homs-Palmyra road in multiple areas disrupting any kind of reinforcements and counter-action by the SAA and its allies. In other words, ISIS and its allies’ plan had precious little time to make it all happen.
Another component of ISIS’s blitzkrieg plan was to use large numbers of heavy armored vehicles, estimated at 100+ tanks, BMPs and Howitzers, which guaranteed quick movement and swift exploitation of breakthroughs through defensive lines. ISIS had also a 4×1 advantage in ground forces, some 4,000 terrorists vs 1,000 defenders who were primarily made up of NDF, Iraq militia, about 100 SAA soldiers from the11th Tank Division and the same amount from the Tiger Forces.
Their plan succeeded in taking most of the northern sector of the airbase and Palmyra (gas fields and hills). It also managed to take Palmyra City and all villages around it guaranteeing the eastern flank toward the Tiyaas Airbase, while further south it managed to control the key roads and villages south of the airbase. For a brief moment ISIS was very close to isolating the Tiyaas Airbase and cutting it off from ground reinforcements.
The ISIS advance was so fast that many SAA Commandos and NDF soldiers found themselves, suddenly, behind enemy lines. During the past few days over 50 soldiers arrived safely to the Syrian side of the front line after retreating mostly at night and under severe weather conditions. They were mostly from the checkpoints defending the gas fields northeast of Tiyaas Airbase. There are possibly more soldiers behind the lines at the moment.
The situation was very risky at one point and the airport was closed due to the dangerous ISIS presence at the airbase perimeter within shooting distance using American TOWs and artillery.
Finally, after the initial regrouping and front line stabilization, the forces defending the Tiyaas Airbase survived the toughest days. They were local airbase security personnel plus the ubiquitous Tiger Forces (100+ soldiers) and the 11th Tank Division (100+ hundreds) from Palmyra. They gained enough time for the first batch of reinforcements to arrive at Tiyaas Airbase. They were several hundreds Hezbollah fighters, the 800th battalion from the Republican Guards and the Golan Regiment.
Map credited to edmaps
When ISIS forces were stopped cold around Tiyaas Airbase, the front line was finally stabilized and defined. After several waves of fierce attacks by ISIS, the SAA and allies made their first moves to regain some of the vital sites to improve the airbase defensive perimeter. In very effective and coordinated moves, the SAA and allies managed to regain the northern hills that overlook T4, the small village of Tiyaas and the air defense battalion (Muhajarah). A short time later, the abandoned armored battalion was also secured.
Once the northern perimeter was stabilized, then came the operations on the southern perimeter of the airbase – a quick SAA attack from the direction of Qaryatayn found ISIS unprepared on the road to Tiyaas Airbase and fierce fighting occurred near and at the critical Tiyaas Crossing, thus placing the ISIS front line at the village of Shareefa in a very risky position. ISIS had to either retreat or gamble on holding the Tiyaas Crossing in the face of a vigorous SAA attack. The fight continued for 2 days. ISIS terrorists knew that if they still wanted to cut off the Homs-Palmyra Road and reach their main objective in taking the Tiyaas Airbase they had to hold the Tiyaas Crossing and Shareefa Village. It was a futile attempt. The determination of the SAA and allied forces was much stronger than the terrorists had anticipated and with adequate CAS and reinforcements, the Tiyaas Crossing was secured and the village of Shareefa liberated.
At the moment, the weather is very inclement in all Homs Province what with freezing temperature and snow storms which are delaying most of the battle plans from both sides. As soon as the weather improves, the most likely activity will be seen at the Shareefa-Tiyaas Crossing-Qasr Al-Hayr Al-Gharbi Triangle to secure all the southern perimeter of the Tiyaas Airbase including important alternative roads to advance toward Palmyra. While some counter- attacks are expected toward the closest oil and gas fields at Al-Mahr and Jihar.
Meanwhile, large SAA reinforcements continue to arrive in the direction of the front line in preparation for a large and well- planned offensive to regain the lost ground and possibly to break the siege of Deir El-Zor.