The Southern Front has been the one major component of the Free Syrian Army that’s managed to hold together as a capable fighting force despite the challenges posed by ISIS, extremist rebel forces, and the Assad regime. Last summer analysts were touting it as Syria’s “last best hope” for a non-Assad, non-extremist outcome to the civil war (despite the fact that the Southern Front was known to collaborate with clear extremists like Zahran Alloush), and were calling for the US to increase its suppose to the group, both militarily and in terms orf improving its capacity to take on the role of governance.
Things began to look bad for the Southern Front last fall, when reports began to come in that a number of its units were either defecting to more extreme forces like Alloush’s Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham or were surrendering to Assad’s army. Now, thanks to the Russian air campaign, the Southern Front appears to be reeling, and it’s starting to worry people in neighboring Jordan:
Jordan is carefully watching the military developments in the southern Syrian province of Daraa following the recapture of the strategic town of Sheikh Miskin on Jan. 26 by government forces in a Russian-backed offensive that began at the end of December.
The fall of the town, not far from the Jordanian border, was preceded by the retaking of the Brigade 82 military base from the Free Syrian Army and its allies, which include Jabhat al-Nusra. The loss is a major setback for the so-called Southern Front, which has been trying to kick the Syrian regime’s forces out of the city of Daraa and other towns in the province’s countryside.
The fall of Sheikh Miskin will cut supply routes to the rebels and enable government forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, to control the main highway linking Damascus in the south to Quneitra in the Golan Heights.
Jordan maintains close links with the FSA and the command of the Southern Front, which controls the Nasib border crossing on the Syrian side. Al-Monitor tried to contact Southern Front spokesman Issam al-Rayyes in Amman for his reaction to the latest events, but received no response.
Since the Russian intervention in Syria started at the end of September, the regime forces have been making important gains in the north and south of the country. Advances in Daraa province have sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing, and many will be heading toward Jordan.
The war in the southern part of Syria generally gets less attention in Western media than whatever is happening in the north, but this is almost a mirror image of what’s happening around Aleppo right now, down to the vast crowds of refugees streaming toward Syria’s border with a close American ally (in this case it’s Jordan, not Turkey). The difference is, Jordan apparently thought they had a deal with Russia to avoid this outcome. Amman believed it had an understanding with Moscow that its bombing campaign wouldn’t target the Southern Front, which Jordan has been helping, but I guess somebody didn’t get the memo. The Jordanians are now looking at a new influx of refugees, the possibility of a large Hezbollah and/or IRGC presence just across the border, and maybe even some extremist rebel fighters trying to cross into Jordan to escape the Russian air campaign.
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