Last week, a new style of terrorist attack took place in Syria, where for the first time, a drone attacked a Syrian military academy in Homs during a graduation ceremony and killed more than 100 people, including civilians. While it is difficult to pinpoint where the drones came from, according to reports, they seemed to be launched from opposition-held areas north-west of Homs. Even if no group claims responsibility for the attack, it will likely herald a new type of attack that will be seen more often in Syria.
This enhancement in the style of operations targeting the Syrian regime will impact all Syrian territory. The use of drones with such efficiency, based on distance and target, is a clear sign of the return of groups with new tactics and a new attacking style, especially in the areas of Idlib, Hama and now Homs.
The main protagonist that appears to have returned with strength is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). In the past, HTS went through a process of elimination of various members, has now restructured the organisation and appears to have returned with a new efficiency in its operations.
This return of strong groups operating in Syria and targeting the Syrian regime is not limited to HTS. In fact, both Jaysh Al Izza and the National Liberation Front are also emerging as active and strong players in this conflict scene. The presence of Jaysh Al Izza is also not to be limited to the area of Idlib, but even in areas as far as Latakia. The Turkistan Islamic Party is also active around Hama.
The return of groups in Syria at this juncture will create more difficulties for the Syrian regime, which is dealing with the resurgence in these areas, as well as in the southern area of the country, with groups there that are willing to attack big cities. This means that in the coming weeks, we may see more attacks in various geographic areas across Syria as most groups want to declare their strong return and send clear messages that they are real and need to be taken seriously.
The use of new technologies, such as drones and sophisticated operations targeting both civilians and military gives a clear sign of how the situation will look like in the coming months. Operations with large casualties and media impact will trigger the desire among various groups to do the same. As such, it is likely these attacks will inaugurate a phase of competition among these re-emerging groups which are insistent on proving their power and demonstrating that they are key players in the Syrian scene.
The efficient use of advanced drones should be seen as a game changer and the start of a new phase of conflict in Syria.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh