Cuban Troops Join Iranian Guards in Russian-led Battle to Capture Ghab Plain

The Syrian civil war is entering a new and pivotal stage as Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah armies gear up for their first battle under Russian command to capture the Ghab Plain in northwestern Syria. It was revealed in Washington Wednesday, Oct. 14, that the Russians had secretly airlifted 2,000 Cuban troops to Syria to join those armies.
(Cuban troops were last deployed in the Middle East in the seventies by the USSR to act as proxies on the Syrian front against Israel and fight under Russian officers from the Golan and Mount Hermon.)
The importance of this fertile plain lies in its location in the Al-Suqaylabiya District, 25 km northwest of Hama (see attached map), between the coastal Zawiyah mountains to the west and a heartland plateau to the east.
These mountains provide a buffer for government-held coastal cities, including Latakia, and for the new Russian military enclave in that district.
The capture of the 63-km-long and 12-km-wide Ghab valley would give Russia and its allies a major advantage for driving back rebel forces in other areas, as well as helping to secure the western territories of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect.
The Ghab battle is seen by Moscow as the most important Syrian battle in store this year and a potential groundbreaker for three reasons:

First ground op for Russian commanders and Iran Rev Guards

1. It will be the first battle to be fought by Russia – not just by air but also on the ground – with small units of Russian marines specializing in operations behind enemy lines.
2. It will also be a first for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops, 3,000 of whom were carried into Syria in the last few days by a special Iranian airlift. These forces specialize in armored vehicle and assault operations, reconnaissance and ground warfare. They include field intelligence teams for keeping the units updated on enemy movements and relaying data gathered by Russian aerial reconnaissance.
Russian officers will directly command Iranian forces for the first time since the war began.
3. It will also be the first time Russian officers have commanded Hizballah units in battle, their men actually fighting shoulder to shoulder.
On October 10, the commander of the IRGC’s Qods Brigades, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, arrived in Syria to inspect the preparations for battle. He then traveled to Russian command HQ at the Hmeimim airbase near Latakia to discuss coordination with Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the Russian Airborne Forces chief who will command the Russian troops in the upcoming battle.

The Ghab battle for rolling the enemy back from northern Syria

This confrontation aims to pull the Syrian government-Hizballah military out of the sand in which it is stuck. This combined force has until now focused on southern rural Idlib, Jisr Al-Shughour, Hama and Highway No. 5, but failed to unlock the grip on northern Syria of rebel forces, including the Army of Conquest and the Al-Nusra Front, or dislodge the Islamic State presence.
Russian tacticians reckon that the conquest of the Ghab Plain will restore Syrian government control to rural Hama, parts of Idlib province, northeastern Latakia and northern Homs, rolling back a large area of the north up to the Turkish border. It might even be possible to reach terms with the anti-Assad Kurdish YPG militia which rules the border regions.
President Vladimir Putin and his military advisers have tagged a deal with the Kurdish YPG high on their scale of priorities. Prevailing on the Kurds to change sides, would gain the Russian-led alliance 30,000 battle-hardened troops and the only military force to have repulsed and vanquished Islamic State forces. It would also be a large saving for Moscow in troops and treasure.
(Rival pursuit of the Kurds by Moscow and Washington in a separate article.)

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