The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh) ended 2020 with a powerful attack on a passenger bus carrying several soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA); this surprise strike with a roadside bomb resulted in the death of more than 20 military personnel and eight civilians.
The attack, which was small in comparison to some of the other ambushes carried out by the terrorist group, prompted the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Aerospace Forces to conduct retaliatory strikes on Islamic State dens in the Badiya Al-Sham region between the Deir Ezzor and Homs governorates.
ISIS Reemerges in Central Syria
Unlike the previous years, 2020 was the year ISIS reemerged in several parts of central Syria, including the eastern region of Hama, which was retaken by the Syrian Arab Army and National Defense Forces (NDF) in 2017.
Furthermore, 2020 proved ISIS is still able to seize territories in the Syrian Arab Republic, as they managed to capture a number of hamlets near the strategic crossroad town of Ithriya, which is located southeast of the administrative borders of Aleppo and Al-Raqqa.
The Islamic State’s surprise advance in eastern Hama forced the Syrian Arab Army to deploy a large number of troops, including the Palestinian-led Jerusalem Brigade (Liwaa Al-Quds), to the Salamiyah and Al-Sa’an areas, which were previously considered safe by the government.
In addition to the attacks in eastern Hama, the Islamic State also launched multiple attacks in the Al-Resafa area of Al-Raqqa and the Al-Sha’ar area of Homs, which includes a number of important gas fields.
Russian Air Force Expands Mission in 2020
In response to the Islamic State’s expansion, the Russian Aerospace Forces have intensified their air operations in Syria, especially in the Homs and Deir Ezzor governorates.
One of the largest aerial operations of 2020 took place in August, following the death of a Russian military commander in the Deir Ezzor Governorate, who was killed while traveling through a desert area with Russian police.
The Russian Aerospace Forces managed to inflict heavy damage to the Islamic State’s cells in western Deir Ezzor and eastern Homs, prompting the terrorist group to temporarily shift their operations to central Syria.
However, towards the end of 2020, the Islamic State intensified their attacks in the Badiya Al-Sukhnah area of eastern Homs, and continued their ambushes against Syrian Army troops in the Palmyra Triangle region, which has been a very difficult area to manage.
The Syrian Arab Army will not be able to put off the Islamic State for much longer, as the terrorist group proved to be a major threat in eastern and central Syria in 2020.
While the Idlib operation remains in limbo, the Syrian Arab Army will eventually have to shift some of its elite forces to the Homs, Deir Ezzor and Hama governorates, especially units with heavy armory to withstand the difficult terrain.
The Syrian Army has defeated the Islamic State at the Palmyra, Al-Sukhnah, Al-Salamiyah and Ithriya fronts before; however, this time around, it will require them to comb through caves and small desert villages that have become major strongholds for the terrorist forces.
ISIS has no plans of halting its operations and as long as the terrorist group continues to expand their attacks, the Syrian government will not be able to ensure the safety of some important highways, like the International Highway between Deir Ezzor and Homs.