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Map of Rebel and Regime Territory in Daraa by stApexf.
Today, insurgents from the Dawn of Islam Brigade captured several key checkpoints across a town named Dael (often written Da'el) in Daraa Province (map). There are reports that the fighters have control of the entire town.
Dael's fall is significant. It may be the defining example of how the international effort to give military assistance to the rebels, led by Saudi Arabia and the US, is rapidly changing the face of the war.
Control of Daraa Province gives the rebels access to Syria's border with Jordan, from where outside forces are providing military asssistance.
Dael is strategically located for that obejctive. Its capture would both help insulate rebel territory from attack, and serve as a base from which to attack the provincial capital, Daraa.
For these reasons, Dael may have been specifically targeted by what may be the most important insurgent organization in southern Syria, one with ties to rebel commander Salim Idriss.
Rebels Capture Key Crossroad
Dael is north-northeast of Daraa City, the provincial capital, in the geographic middle of the fight for Daraa Province and controlling the main highway between Daraa and Damascus. It is also on the northwest edge of a string of insurgent-controlled towns and checkpoints.
Its capture cuts off several already-isolated Assad bases off from reinforcements, bringing the insurgents closer to control of all traffic in and out of eastern Daraa Province. If the rebels hold Dael, they can use it as a base to launch campaigns northwards to complete this objective.
Southern districts of Daraa city have already begun to fall to opposition fighters. If Dael is captured and held, insurgents can push into the northern districts of the provincial capital as well.
Then there are the logistics and operations beyond Daraa province. Insurgent forces have been trained in Jordan, and arms shipments, particularly Croatian anti-tank weapons, have been streaming across the border for months. As Daraa increasingly falls under insurgent control, it becomes easier to move these weapons to Damascus, about 90 minutes away by road.
From Regime Stronghold to Achilles Heel
In December, none of Daraa Province was under insurgent control. There was hit-and-run street fighting, roadside bombs, and ambushes in rural areas, but no sign of an opposition foothold in the region.
By the end of January, however, bases had fallen, insurgents controlled --- at least nominally --- sections of some towns, like Busr al Harir, and the regime began sending hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers in an attempt to quell a growing crisis.
The reinforcements could not check the tide of the fight. At the end of February, the regime found itself struggling to control the eastern half of the province. By the end of the first week in March, the opposition fighters had overrun a series of bases on the western border between Daraa Province and the Demilitarized Zone near the Golan Heights. Now the insurgency appears to have gained the upper hand across much of the province.
So how did the balance of power change so rapidly? At least part of the answer lies in the push by the US, European allies, and certain Arab states to consolidate military assistance, including the provision of weapons and training, to the insurgents.
New Weapons, New Leadership, and Foreign Intelligence
On 6 February, long before the international press had picked up on the appearance of Croatian weapons in Syria, we noted their presence in locations where the insurgents were winning victories.
However, evidence was also providing clues that more than weapons was behind the advance of the fighters.
Disparate Islamist militias operating in Daraa reorganised themselves under the banner "The Dawn of Islam Brigade" --- and they were now cooperating with the Free Syrian Army, under the leadership of the Daraa Military Council and headed by FSA commander Brigadier General Salim Idriss.
This new group was receiving not only the Croatian anti-tank weapons, but also training in how to use them in a new strategic campaign --- first to capture Daraa and ultimately to take Damascus. Part of that training was provided "internally", but it is highly likely that part of it has been led by advisors from foreign countries.
We have since pieced together evidence that the Dawn of Islam Brigade is receiving specific intelligence from Jordan's military. This coincides with reports that Jordan, often with CIA assistance, has been helping train insurgents, move weapons across the border, and provide information to the insurgent commanders
Below is a playlist of the rebel attack on Dael. A few points:
- Some of the videos feature an attack by the Moataz God Brigade. Note how they use several different vhicles equipped with different weapons, inculding a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun and a Croatian SPG-9 revoilless rifle.
- The insurgents coordinated their attack from inside and outside the city. Roads to surrounding bases were cut off, nearby fields were secured by snipers, and rebel fighters attacked the city from multiple directions all at once. This level of coordination shows that the opposition is operating with military efficiency.
Thanks to Joanna Paraszczuk, John Horne, and Scott Lucas for contributing and editing this article.