BREAKING: Syrian Army captures Arbain and is about to capture Zakah in new advance (Map)

Overnight, the Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces captured the small villages of Hasariyah and Abu Raidi Sharqiyah, putting them within firing distance of the towns of Zakah and Arbain. At noon, Arbain was captured by the Syrian Army. These towns are stronghold of the FSA-aligned Jaish al-Izza (Army of Glory) group. The group peacefully withdrew from Hasariyah overnight, leaving Army troops to seize the area after sunrise.

This morning’s advance came after yesterday’s advance into what used to be longstanding rebel territory. It is unlikely that government forces will stop after gaining control of Arbain. They are seeking to build a bigger buffer zone along the road between the Christian towns of Maharda and Suqaylabiya. The road was previously cut by the mid-June rebel offensive, making it free travel and access difficult for the Syrian military and civilians alike.

Map of wider situation in northern Hama governorate.

Syrian Army’s elite Tiger Forces capture fresh ground from rebels in Northern Hama (Map)

On 30 July 2019, after recapturing the villages of Tal Maleh and Jibeen the day before, the Syrian Army decided to continue its advance in northern Hama governorate. Capitalizing on the rebel retreat from Jibeen, the Army’s Tiger Forces shock troops unexpectedly rushed towards the town of Zakah (Zakat). Supported by an extensive air and artillery bombardment which cratered fields and destroyed several houses, the Army captured a small village called Abu Raidi Gharbiyah and now finds itself in control of key farmlands on the southern and southwestern approaches to Zakah, a town held by the rebels since December 2012. If the Syrian Army manages to capture this town, it could set the scene for an assault on the Free Syrian Army stronghold of Kafr Zita or a move further eastward to besiege the frontline bastion town of Lataminah. The strategic balance in Northern Hama has not been fundamentally altered yet, but the next few days could prove crucial to the future of the area going forward.

Satellite images show plume of smoke from burning oil tanker Front Altair in Gulf of Oman

Close-up of burning oil tanker Front Altair in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz at 7:22 am, 42 minutes after the ship sent out a distress call which was picked up by the US Navy
Wide-angle view of oil tanker Front Altair sending a plume of smoke up in the air. The ship was burning on its right side after an explosion. It was carrying naphtha, a type of crude oil.

Two oil tankers caught fire in an apparent attack in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz on the morning of June 13. One of the two ships, the crude oil tanker Front Altair, had departed from the United Arab Emirates port of Ruwais and was on course for the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. The ship is owned by Frontline, a shipping company based in Norway, and is registered under the Marshall Islands.

Satellite images taken less than an hour after the ship reported an explosion show the ship burning and spreading a large cloud of billowing black smoke into the air. Multiple smaller boats can also be seen speeding and circling around the boat, revealed by their large wakes in the sea. Shortly after transiting the Strait of Hormuz, the Front Altair experienced an explosion which created a large hole just above the waterline. Some of the crude oil leaked out while on fire, creating the sideways plume of smoke.

The 23 crew members all evacuated the vessel and were rescued by a South Korean cargo vessel called the Hyundai Dubai that was in the area at the time. The rescue was completed 74 minutes after the Front Altair sent out its distress call, about 30 minutes after these satellite images were captured. According to Iran, the ship has sunk into the water, though there are still conflicting reports of whether this is the case.

The USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, changes course in a hairpin turn to pick up 21 crewmembers rescued from the Kokuka Courageous, the other vessel that caught fire.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the incidents, saying Iran is “responsible” for the attacks. In the speech, he also mentioned a list of supposed Iranian aggressions against the US, citing a “On May 31st, a car bomb in Afghanistan wounded four US servicemembers, killed four Afghan civilians, and wounded bystanders”. This attack (which took place in Kabul, 470 miles away from the Iranian border) was not conducted by Iran, but by the Taliban. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, said in a statement that the attack targeted a convoy of “senior foreign advisers”.

Timelapse Map of 2019 Battle of Hama

The latest battle in Syria between the government and rebels is a marked change from the previous six months, in which there was not major conflict between the two sides of the war. However, the death toll of this new round of fighting has already vastly exceeded the death toll of the Battle of Baghouz earlier in 2019, in which the territory of ISIL was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Over 1,100 have died in the past five weeks, compared to around 600 in the six weeks of the Battle of Baghouz. The back and forth fighting and fierce attempt by each side to deny the other a victory is easily seen from this timelapse animation of the five week battle.

This is the latest map of control in North Hama (7 June). Click on the map for full resolution.
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Satellite imagery: Devastation caused by recent Hama fighting

The above 2 photos show fires and hotspots on 26 May, the day the Syrian Army recaptured the town of Kafr Nabudah from rebels in northwest Hama

The above 2 photos from the day before the rebel capture and the day of the Syrian Army recapture show farmlands burned by Syrian/Russian airstrikes

The above 2 photos show the devastation of wildfires along the north Hama frontline between the Syrian Army and Islamist rebels. Extremely high heat and the bombings and shelling of war have scorched the farmland.


Satellite timelapse: Construction of a new Iraq-Syria border crossing by an Iran-supported militia

A recent report from ImageSat International documented the recent construction of an outpost near the closed Al Bukamal-Al Qa’im border crossing. Over the past month, large earthworks and construction have been taking place at a location southwest of the crossing. The report suggested Iran-backed militias were building the new border crossing. If so, it could be used as a land bridge for Iran to ship weapons, oil, and personnel from Iran to Syria and Lebanon (to Hezbollah) and vice versa.

BREAKING: Rebel groups capture key town from Syrian Army after intense assault (maps)

In the morning hours of May 22, rebel forces led by jihadist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, fighting alongside Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and moderate Jaish al-Izza, launched a fierce attack against the Syrian Army at the town of Kafr Nabudah, one of the main towns captured by the Syrian Army during its operation earlier in May. A prolonged rebel heavy infantry assault lasting 6 hours finally succeeded in forcing the Syrian Army’s elite Tiger Forces out of the town.

Rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army and National Liberation Front used truck-mounted rockets as well as Kornet anti-tank missiles and 4 Panthera F9 armored troop carriers recently supplied by Turkey. The jihadist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham started off with a suicide car bomb (killing 5 government troops) and used 7 tanks, GRAD rockets, ‘elephant’ rockets, Milkor grenade launchers, RPGs, motorbikes, and teams of gunmen. All in all, about 50 vehicles and 500 rebel fighters participated in the offensive, meaning it was well-coordinated and planned many days in advance.

Both sides killed several dozen of the other’s troops, with at least a hundred wounded. Rebels captured two tanks and destroyed one BMP. The Syrian Army is currently bombing and shelling the town and attempting to regroup and launch a counterattack.

The following are maps of the situation before and after, along with brand-new satellite imagery of the town just a few hours before the rebel assault began:

Satellite image of Kafr Nabudah town on 21 May, just hours before the final rebel assault. Craters and frontline positions are visible, including defensive trenches dug by the Syrian Army along the southeast perimeter of the town and circular outposts to the northeast. These locations were all overrun by rebels. Bombed-out buildings are also visible.