2017 Deir Ez Zor Offensive: Battle for Humaymah

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On July 1, 2017 pro-government media outlets released the first video depicting Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias advancing around the outskirts of Humaymah, in rural south-east Homs, and the T2 pumping station, in Deir Ez Zor. Humaymah (see map below) is the last major village on the Palmyra–al-Qaim road prior to reaching the crucial T2 and T3 pumping stations, from which the Syrian government and allied forces hoped to launch an offensive towards ISIS’s stronghold of Abukamal near the Euphrates River. It would ultimately take seven weeks to capture the village and 15 weeks to capture T2.1.“Video Footage: Syrian Army liberating Humaymah near Homs” : Al Masdar News 2.“Video: Hezbollah, Syrian Army liberate T2 Pumping Station” : Al Masdar News

In late June and early July, government forces were still focused on liberating the towns of Arak and Suknah along the Palmyra–Deir Ez Zor highway, as well as advancing south from the Aleppo countryside into north-eastern Hama, and east through the Raqqa countryside towards the Euphrates River. With much of the governments manpower and equipment focused elsewhere, the Humaymah/T2 axis was left to poorly equipped Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militias.3.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/881836888088350720 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran

Map of Humaymah and surroundings showing SAA and ISIS positions over the course of the seven-week campaign.

The July 1 video showed a T-62 and T-72 tank, two BMP-1s, a recoilless rifle jeep, two technicals, an ATGM-mounted pickup, a machinegun-mounted pickup, two Mercedes Unimog logistical trucks, a bulldozer, a dirtbike, and 17 regular pickups involved in the initial advance. This force consisted of up to 170 fighters based on the maximum occupancy of each vehicle.

The militia set up a base camp from which all of the vehicles, aside from some of the pickups, moved to a forward operating base (FOB) built of semi-circular dirt berms, utilising both tanks as static artillery pieces. On July 3, ISIS launched a counter-attack on the FOB.

Arial view of the militia's FOB near Humaymah as shown in an ISIS video of the attack.
Aerial view of the militia’s FOB, as shown in an ISIS video of the attack.

ISIS forces destroyed the T-62, the bulldozer, and two pickups, they also captured the recoilless rifle and ATGM-mounted pickup and effectively eliminated 50% of the defending force’s armour and anti-armour equipment.

Four days later, on July 7, ISIS again attacked the militia around Humaymah, this time claiming to have destroyed or captured the T-72, a BMP, and a technical.

An announcement from the ISIS-affiliate AMAQ Agency, claiming to have successfully attacked pro-government forces near Humaymah.

That same day, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani was pictured4.www.twitter.com/metesohtaoglu/status/883438377424572416 : @metesohtaoglu in the area together with Liwa al-Baqir5.“Regime Auxiliary Forces in Aleppo” : Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi troops from Aleppo, marking the beginning of a surge of IRGC-affiliated fighters as foreign militias took over command of the axis. Over the following two months pro-government forces and ISIS would clash at least seven times until Humaymah was captured on August 20.6.www.twitter.com/SaladinAlDronni/status/886887554783621120 : @SaladinAlDronni 7.www.twitter.com/TerrorMonitorAR/status/886579652436922369 : @TerrorMonitorAR 8.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/886910412989583360 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran 9.http://qasioun-news.com/en/news/show/84613 : @Qasioun News10.www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/895277366385291264 : @QalaatAlMudiq 11.www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/896828114080329728 : @QalaatAlMudiq 12.www.twitter.com/TerrorMonitorAR/status/899313381395632128 : @TerrorMonitorAR 13.www.twitter.com/AllyOfTruth/status/900815838772678666 : @AllyOfTruth

Shortly after Soleimani’s visit, images and videos from the front revealed a gradual influx of plentiful and better quality equipment in the hands of pro-government forces. The day after a July 16 ISIS raid killed at least four Syrians and one Afghan, destroyed another T-62 tank, and captured several more ATGMs,14.www.twitter.com/SaladinAlDronni/status/886887554783621120 : @SaladinAlDronni 15.www.twitter.com/TerrorMonitorAR/status/886579652436922369 : @TerrorMonitorAR Hezbollah-affiliated media released a video showing at least two new tanks involved in repelling another ISIS attack.16.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/886910412989583360 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran

Two tanks targeting incoming ISIS vehicles near Humaymah.
Two tanks targeting incoming ISIS vehicles near Humaymah.

From that moment on, reinforcements arrived rapidly. A July 20 ISIS attack was met with a T-72M, GRAD launcher, BMP-1, flatbed-mounted artillery, a static ATGM, and even limited air support in the form of a single helicopter, marking the first time that both artillery and air support were used on this front.17.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/888151650707410944 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran Despite this new equipment, ISIS made some gains south of Humayamah.18.www.twitter.com/QASIOUN_NEWS/status/887942328438140928 : @QASIOUN_NEWS

An August 9 video of an ISIS attack west of Humaymah shows pro-government forces using up to four GRAD launchers.19.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/895367191834619904 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran Despite pro-government claims of repelling the attack, ISIS managed to kill Major General Ghasan Younis of the 3rd Division’s 11th Tank Battalion along with at least 19 other Syrian soldiers and as many as nine Hezbollah fighters. 20.www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/895367191834619904 : @GregoryPWatersPictures released on August 14 show GRAD launchers, an up-armored BMP, a recoilless-rifle mounted jeep, a D-20 152mm Howitzer and two 105mm M101 Howitzers involved in a pro-government counter-attack west of the village. 21.www.twitter.com/MathieuMorant/status/897051529395482624 : @MathieuMorant

Reinforcements and proper equipment proved crucial in the capture of Humaymah, as ISIS’s strategy of small, quick raids designed to overtake the enemy with speed and surprise could not overcome strengthened defensive positions. However, ISIS remained a deadly foe, as evidenced by its large August 9 attack. By mid-September this front was manned by Hezbollah, IRGC, Afghans, Iraqis, and Syrian Hezbollah fighters and equipped with effective, if out-dated, heavy weaponry. 22.www.twitter.com/aronlund/status/909161621477609472 : @aronlund 23.www.twitter.com/leithfadel/status/923143717996908544 : @leithfadel On November 8 these combined forces finally reached Abukamal on the Syria-Iraq border, setting the stage for the battle for ISIS’s last major city in Syria and Iraq.24.www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/928279843455819777 : @QalaatAlMudiq

Gregory Waters

Gregory Waters is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley and a fellow at the UC Berkeley Human Rights Investigations Lab. He researches conflicts and political transitions in the MENA region, primarily using open source information. His current research focuses on mapping Syrian militia unit structures. He publishes his research here and on Twitter.

References   [ + ]

1. “Video Footage: Syrian Army liberating Humaymah near Homs” : Al Masdar News
2. “Video: Hezbollah, Syrian Army liberate T2 Pumping Station” : Al Masdar News
3. www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/881836888088350720 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran
4. www.twitter.com/metesohtaoglu/status/883438377424572416 : @metesohtaoglu
5. “Regime Auxiliary Forces in Aleppo” : Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
6, 14. www.twitter.com/SaladinAlDronni/status/886887554783621120 : @SaladinAlDronni
7, 15. www.twitter.com/TerrorMonitorAR/status/886579652436922369 : @TerrorMonitorAR
8, 16. www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/886910412989583360 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran
9. http://qasioun-news.com/en/news/show/84613 : @Qasioun News
10. www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/895277366385291264 : @QalaatAlMudiq
11. www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/896828114080329728 : @QalaatAlMudiq
12. www.twitter.com/TerrorMonitorAR/status/899313381395632128 : @TerrorMonitorAR
13. www.twitter.com/AllyOfTruth/status/900815838772678666 : @AllyOfTruth
17. www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/888151650707410944 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran
18. www.twitter.com/QASIOUN_NEWS/status/887942328438140928 : @QASIOUN_NEWS
19. www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/895367191834619904 : @Syria_Hezb_Iran
20. www.twitter.com/Syria_Hezb_Iran/status/895367191834619904 : @GregoryPWaters
21. www.twitter.com/MathieuMorant/status/897051529395482624 : @MathieuMorant
22. www.twitter.com/aronlund/status/909161621477609472 : @aronlund
23. www.twitter.com/leithfadel/status/923143717996908544 : @leithfadel
24. www.twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/928279843455819777 : @QalaatAlMudiq