IRGC pulls back in Syria

IRGC troops have deployed in key strategic areas around Damascus.

IRGC troops. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

BEIRUT – Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime have reportedly withdrawn from a number of battlefronts and redeployed to strategic points around the Syrian capital.


“The Iranian leadership has withdrawn [IRGC fighters] because there is no strategic advantage for their forces in many areas and they have suffered heavy losses,” Italian Adnkronos news agency (AKI) reported Tuesday.


“The IRGC has now based itself firmly [around] Damascus,” sources close to Hezbollah told AKI.


However, the sources denied that Tehran had withdrawn its forces from Syria and returned them to Iran.


“We believe there are around 6,000 fighters in all of Syria. They are all from the IRGC, and there are no Basij fighters. Also, Iranian officers are supervising them and Syrians do not interfere in their work. The matter is limited to coordination with the Syrian military forces.”


The sources explained that the most significant coordination with Syrian forces took place between the IRGC and “the Air Force and the Artillery.” This was done “to [provide] cover for the Iranian forces.”


Rebels benefit from IRGC absence


Saudi-owned paper As-Sharq al-Awsat first reported on the withdrawal of Iranian troops last week, citing opposition sources as saying there has been a “striking absence of IRGC forces supporting Assad’s regime on the battlefield.”


The paper added that the pull-back had “positively impacted the situation of the opposition, which has recently begun to regain initiative and opened new fronts.”


The sources told Asharq Alawsat that their forces “had regained the ability to attack and [take their enemy by] surprise at more than one location in the north and south of the country.”


In recent weeks Syrian rebels have captured the capital of Idlib Governorate, seized strategic points near the Jordanian border and breached the regime’s defensive line in northwestern Aleppo.


Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told As-Sharq al-Awsat on Tuesday that “the momentum of the IRGC fighters in Syria has receded” but that their presence in the country had not decreased.


“Syrian activists and fighters have been able to observe this change since the beginning of the direct nuclear talks on Iran’s nuclear program.”


He did add however that the situation was “still active at the moment,” and therefore subject to change.


Damascus defense


The alleged redeployment of the Iranian troops to the Damascus environs comes as pro-regime forces have conducted new offensives amid growing rebel threats outside the capital.


AKI reported that the IRGC troops had “redeployed southwest of the capital in the Golan near the border with Israel; in the Qalamoun in areas northwest of Damascus near the border with Lebanon; and in areas of southern Syria, especially in military bases around Izraa and Sanamayn.”


All the aforementioned areas serve as key defensive lines for Damascus. Hezbollah and pro-regime forces have reportedly been readying a new Spring campaign in the Qalamoun mountains, from where Islamist battalions could strike the Damascus-Homs highway.


Jane’s Defense, one of the world’s leading military publications, forecast on April 12 that “an offensive by Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, probably working independently and aimed at severing communications between Homs and Damascus, is likely in the coming weeks.”


Further to the south, in February, Hezbollah and Iran launched an offensive to secure a triangle of territory stretching from the southern outskirts of Damascus down to Quneitra in the southwest and Daraa in the southeast.


However, the campaign has ground to a halt, with the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Southern Front notching a series of victories. Last week the rebel alliance even launched its own campaign aimed at Sanamayn, a town 50 kilometers south of Damascus which hosts the 9th Armored Division and serves as one of the regime’s last defensive lines for the capital.


Izraa, which lies on the highway from Daraa to Sanamayn, also hosts one of the regime’s most fortified bases in southern Syria. 

IRGC troops have reportedly pulled back from a number of Syrian battlefronts. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

The Iranian leadership has withdrawn [IRGC fighters] because there is no strategic advantage for the forces in many areas and they have suffered heavy losses.

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