Al-Ahed News in Khan Sheikhoun: This Is How the Terrorists Fled
By Mohammad Eid
Syria - It was not long before the Syrian Arab Army's Political Administration invited journalists to visit Khan Sheikhoun and the rest of the liberated areas in the northern Hama countryside. The invitation coincided with a statement from the army regarding its military operation and the strategic importance of the liberated towns and cities.
However, that did not diminish our interest in visiting towns that were until recently fortified fortresses, which the terrorists thought would protect them before they took on a definite loss.
Journeying through the destruction
Despite the vast destruction along the way to Khan Sheikhoun, the largest town in the southern countryside of Idlib, there remained remnants of beauty that were clearly visible through the plains and fields linking these beautiful rural towns. The expulsion of terrorists from these towns, including Mahrada and al-Suqaylabiyah, was the first step. These towns paid the price for the inability of the terrorists to hurt the army. The terrorists instead chose to target civilians who they viewed as the soft side in the military operation that was launched in April. The outcome of the operation exceeded all expectations from a military standpoint.
The car drove us from Hama countryside towards the towns of Kafr Zita, al-Hobeit and then Khan Sheikhoun, which is the jewel of the Syrian army’s definitive victory. It was remarkable how the degree of destruction diminished as we approached Khan Sheikhoun. The reason, as explained by the military commander who accompanied us, was that the terrorist groups attempted to defend this area through their advanced lines of defense in Hama’s northern countryside where the fiercest battles took place with the terrorists opening heavy fire.
“With the fall of the first lines of defense, the terrorists realized that their hope for resilience had begun to fade despite Turkish support. So they began to flee, lessening the intensity of the clashes as the rest of the areas were liberated by the army,” a field commander tells al-Ahed News Website.
A short stop in the town of al-Hobeit, captured by the Syrian Arab Army before paving the way to travel full speed ahead towards Khan Sheikhoun, allowed us to verify what the Director of the Political Administration in the Syrian Arab Army, Major General Hassan Hassan, told us when he visited the town accompanied by the Syrian Minister of Defense Ali Ayoub.
"I saw tunnels and massive fortifications in al-Hobeit. They formed an entire underground city. Were it not for the firmness and will of the men of the Syrian Arab Army, the liberation of this town would have required an unknown period of time,” Major General Hassan said.
This is how the troops advance
The extent of destruction in Khan Sheikhoun was indicative of the army's ability to select a bank of targets with high accuracy. “The airstrikes paralyzed the coordination operations between the terrorists inside the city. This paved the way for the Syrian forces to enter it from the northwestern axis. The forces advancing from the east met with the forces advancing from the west. They took control of the Aleppo-Hama international road starting from Khan Sheikhoun. The militants, then, chose to escape before they were completely besieged. However, they left behind large amounts of mines and booby-traps, which would be handled by the engineers as required,” says the field commander.
The fall of Khan Sheikhoun led to the siege of the last terrorist enclave in the northern countryside of Hama, the so-called Triangle of Death in Murk, al-Latamneh, and Kafr Zita. We asked the Syrian officer about the total area recovered by the army. He said it was “427 square kilometers, comprising a harsh and complex geography. And it was liberated in record time."
Regarding the strategic dimension of the victory, the Syrian field commander pointed out that Khan Sheikhoun became a springboard for the Syrian army in Idlib Province after it reached it for the first time since 2014.
“It is an achievement that carries a lot of significance since Idlib itself is very close to liberation, especially since the army succeeded in isolating Khan Sheikhoun from Maarat al-Nu'man, which may be its first future destination. Most importantly, the morale of the terrorists has reached rock bottom. We have noticed this as they fled and avoided clashing with us in recent battles,” the Syrian field commander explained.
Wide-range advance options
While we toured, some soldiers found an opportunity to rest following the recent battles. Before taking a small nap, one soldier whispered that sleep has a different taste after victory, "but we sleep with both eyes open."
After Khan Sheikhun, the Syrian army seemed to have more choices. When we told the officers and soldiers about Sochi, the famous agreement, the buffer zone and other political outcomes, the smile on their faces told the whole story. One of the soldiers put those smiles into words.
“What we know is that only strength and strength alone is what is allowing us to talk together in Khan Sheikhoun. Idlib is all of our land and we know how to regain it.”
The sweep up operations as well as the victory celebrations were still ongoing in Khan Sheikhoun. But dusty faces and looking at the horizon were preparing for something more. Something that says that Khan Sheikhoun was an important juncture, but no doubt there is more to come.