The Syrian Army is completing an operation to encircle a large Daesh force in the town of Akerbat in the eastern part of Hama province.

Estimates show that several thousand terrorists have already been entrapped. Syrian forces with support from Russian aviation are cutting off the escape routes for the encircled terrorist groups. The liberation of Akerbat will pave the way for a further offensive by the Syrian Army, including on Deir ez-Zor.

Strategic Importance

Akerbat is a small town with a population of less than 10,000 northwest of the ancient city of Palmyra. Akerbat is strategically important due to its location near the highway connecting Palmyra and Salamiyah. Akerbat has been the base for some of the Daesh militants who left Raqqa, including for their attacks on Hama and Homs.

Moreover, Akerbat is located close to the Palmyra gas fields that were recently targeted by Daesh. In addition, the area of Akerbat could be potentially used as a foothold if Daesh decided to launch another offensive on Palmyra.

In fact, Akerbat continues to be the last Daesh stronghold in the province of Hama, with an escape route leading to the east toward Deir ez-Zor. As a result of the recent efforts by the Syrian Army, this route has now also been blocked.

“The liberation of Akerbat will allow the Syrian Army to prepare an offensive on the Daesh-controlled oil and gas field in Hama and in the northeastern part of Homs. The illegal oil trade is critical for Daesh finances. When those oil and gas fields are under Damascus’ control, Daesh will lose an important source of income. Moreover, the Syrian Army will have a foothold for a further offensive on Deir ez-Zor,” RIA Novosti contributor Andrei Kots wrote in an analytical piece.

Russian Airstrikes

The recent advances by the Syrian Army would not be possible without the support of the Russian Air Force. Terrorists took advantage of the mountainous areas to hide, set up ambushes and redeploy forces. Russian warplanes were tasked with locating and destroying the hideouts.

“In order to prevent Daesh militants from escaping to Deir ez-Zor, aircraft from the Russian Air Force have been conducting both day and night aerial reconnaissance with the use of drones. Russian warplanes are attacking terrorists’ equipment, including heavy weaponry and armored vehicles,” the Russian Defense Ministry reported Friday.

The ministry also issued video footage showing the use of high-precision weapons against terrorists near Akerbat, including guided missiles and smart bombs. Russian aircraft attacked terrorists both on the open ground and in mountainous areas. The operation also apparently involved specialists from the Russian Special Operations Forces who conducted reconnaissance and target location on the ground.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a total of 730 Daesh targets were destroyed in the operation, including bunkers, ammo depots, weapons factories and armored vehicle facilities. Russian aircraft conducted a total of 290 sorties, plus 120 sorties with the use of reconnaissance drones.

Offensive on Deir ez-Zor

Earlier this month, the Syrian Army took control over the town of al-Sukhnah, the main Daesh stronghold in Homs. The town occupies a strategically important position since it is located near the M-20 highway connecting Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor.

The highway is the only fully functional route in this part of the country. By maintaining control over this major transport artery the Syrian Army will be able to quickly move troops, equipment, ammunition and food to the east of Syria.

The Syrian Army will soon begin an offensive from al-Sukhnah on Deir ez-Zor. Moreover, Syrian forces are currently advancing towards Deir ez-Zor from the north, along the Euphrates. After the liberation of Akerbat the Syrian Army will also be able to advance on Deir ez-Zor from the west. As a result, the Syrian Army is expected to attack the city from three directions.

According to Kots, the liberation of Deir ez-Zor will be a milestone victory for Damascus.

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