Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Explaining the Battles for Bab Hawa

The Bab Hawa border crossing is the prize of northern Idlib province.  Rebels from the town of Sarmada, located six kilometers from the Turkish border, have fought for control of the strategic crossing for months. The Daraa al-Thawra Brigade, the main rebel group in Sarmada, first captured the crossing in mid-May under the leadership of Muhamed Kamal Razuq who died during the operation and was replaced by his chief of staff, Muhamed Bakour. As the regime began mobilizing to take back the border crossing, the rebels abandoned it, possibly at the urging of Turkey which did not want a battle on its border.

In mid-July, as the regime fought to maintain control of the capital, Bakour returned to Bab Hawa, capturing it after a short battle. The rebels traveled to the checkpoint on foot through the countryside because the road from Sarmada to the Bab Hawa border crossing runs through the old Bab Hawa crossing which was still controlled by the regime’s military. The old border crossing’s location five kilometers from the border made it of secondary importance.

With the fall of the Bab Hawa crossing, the old crossing became an isolated position surrounded by rebel-held territory. On the morning of August 14, the regime sent a convoy from Idlib city to pull the Bab Hawa garrison out. The 30 kilometer journey from Idlib city to Bab Hawa was arduous as the convoy fought through ambushes in Maarat Misrin, Hazano, and Batbo on their way north.

The following morning, the Bab Hawa garrison broke out of the old crossing and dashed south to Idlib city, enduring additional ambushes and losing trucks, armored vehicles, and soldiers along the way. The Sarmada rebels celebrated the liberation of the old border crossing throughout the day and claimed credit for pushing the regime out.

This development highlights one important point. While regions such as northern Idlib, Jebel al-Zawiyah, northern Aleppo, and eastern Deir Ezzor are considered rebel-held territory, the regime still maintains isolated positions in these regions, used for shelling surrounding villages. The rebels will likely continue targeting these isolated positions as they consolidate control of their defacto safe havens.   

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