Rif Dimashq offensive (February–April 2018)

Rif Dimashq offensive (February–April 2018)
Part of the Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign (Syrian Civil War), the Siege of Eastern Ghouta and the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War
Operation Damascus Steel.svg
Map of the operation
Date18 February 2018[7] – 14 April 2018
(1 month, 3 weeks and 6 days)
LocationEastern Ghouta, Rif Dimashq Governorate, Syria
ResultDecisive Syrian Army and allies victory[8]
Territorial
changes
Syrian army captures the entirety of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta pocket[9]
Belligerents

Syrian Arab Republic

 Russia
Allied militias:
Emblem of Liwa Al-Quds.svg Liwa al-Quds[1]
Emblem of the Palestine Liberation Army.svg Palestine Liberation Army[2]
PFLP-GC[3]
Arab Nationalist Guard[2]
SSNP[4]

Free Palestine Movement[5]
Jaysh al-Islam Surrendered
Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Al-Rahman Legion Surrendered
Ahrar al-Sham Surrendered
Tahrir al-Sham Surrendered[6]
Commanders and leaders
Maj. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan
(Tiger Forces)[10]
Col. Ghiath Dalla
(42nd Armored Brigade)

Essam al-Buwaydhani Surrendered
(Jaysh al-Islam leader)[11]
Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Capt. Abdul Nasr Shamir (POW)[12]
(al-Rahman Legion commander in chief)[13]

Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Abu Ali Dhiya al-Shaghouri 
(al-Rahman Legion chief of staff)[14]
Units involved

Syrian Army

National Defence Forces[2]
Syrian Air Force
Eagles of the Whirlwind
Russian Armed Forces

Wagner Group[22]

Jaysh al-Islam

  • Military Council of Damascus and its Suburbs

Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Al-Rahman Legion

  • Al-Bara Brigade
  • Glory Brigades
    • Abu Musa al-Shari Brigade
  • Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (Eastern Ghouta branch)
    • Al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade
  • 101st Battalion

Ahrar al-Sham

  • Fajr al-Umma Brigade
Strength

15,000+[16]

  • Emblem of Liwa Al-Quds.svg Liwa al-Quds: 2,000+[1]

20,000[23]

  • 10,000
  • Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg 8,000
  • 600
Casualties and losses
520 killed,[24]
2 captured[25]
2 killed (per CIT)[26]
405 killed[24]
1,835 civilians killed (per SOHR; Eastern Ghouta & Damascus)[27][28]

The Rif Dimashq offensive (February–April 2018), code-named Operation Damascus Steel,[29] was a military offensive launched by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in February 2018 in a bid to capture the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb.[7][30] East Ghouta, a pocket of towns and farms, had been under government siege since 2013 and had been a major rebel stronghold in the vicinity of the capital of Damascus. According to the United Nations, nearly 400,000 people live in East Ghouta.[31]

On 14 April, the Syrian Army fully captured the Eastern Ghouta pocket.[9] Before the offensive had concluded, the Associated Press reported that the capture of the whole rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave would represent one of the most significant victories for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, and the worst setback for the rebels since their defeat in the Battle of Aleppo in late 2016.[32] Similarly, Reuters stated the capture of Eastern Ghouta would represent the biggest prize for President al-Assad since the full recapture of Aleppo.[33] During the offensive, one of the heaviest bombardments of the war took place[34] with more than 1,700 people being killed by air and artillery strikes.[35]

Background

Islamist Jaysh al-Islam (pictured) was the most challenging faction of the Siege of Eastern Ghouta.

With most of the suburbs of Damascus recaptured by the Syrian government by February 2018, there remained a significant swathe of the countryside near the capital city captured by fundamentalist rebels from the mainstream ones in 2012 that had been under siege by pro-government forces since 2013.[36] The rebels used to shell the capital daily and tried to infiltrate it many times.[9]

Syrian forces began bombarding and shelling the area in early February after Russian-brokered peace talks failed, killing 200 by 8 February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[37] They again started bombarding it on 18 February, and did so for eight consecutive days before beginning the ground offensive.[38]

The main rebel faction in the area was Jaysh al-Islam, based in Douma (with an estimated 10,000–15,000 fighters in the region in early 2018).[39] The second largest was Faylaq al-Rahman, an official affiliate of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), controlling much of central and western parts of Ghouta, including the Jobar and Ain Terma districts.[40] In addition, Ahrar al-Sham (based in Harasta) and Tahrir al-Sham (HTS – controlling smaller districts such as Arbin, Hawsh Al-Ash'ari and Bait Naim, with an estimated strength in the area of 500 in February 2018[41]) had a far smaller presence.[38][40][42]