Intense fighting continues in Damascus as part of a new rebel offensive dubbed Operation Epic in the Capital of the Omayyads. Positions along the strategic road that encircles Damascus have changed hands several times in running battles between the two sides. While the rebels made rapid advances in their initial strikes — having reached the outside road and having crossed into Jobar district, an urban area where the loyalists are well entrenched — they continue to face fierce resistance from well-equipped loyalist formations. Tube artillery and multiple rocket launcher artillery stationed on Qasioun Mountain, which overlooks the city, continues to pound suspected rebel positions, while the regime's air force has intensified its airstrikes.
In a departure from previous operations in the capital area, the rebels have been careful to temper their optimism about their prospects in this offensive. The rebels claim they are now advancing cautiously while ensuring adequate supply lines for their forward units. Previous operations were costly, reckless and easily repelled. The rebels also say they are now being extra careful about clearing any suspected sniper nests to their rear and that they are prepared to fall back if they encounter overwhelming resistance from loyalist units.
Meanwhile, farther to the north in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, the rebels have also gradually realized they need to better organize themselves if they hope to overrun remaining regime bases and airfields in the region and avoid protracted sieges. Indeed, disparate rebel units fighting in the north have begun an unprecedented effort at cooperation.
Tactical Changes in the North
Structures of Cooperation
The rebels reportedly set up four command centers to take charge of different fronts. Each command center directly oversees 30 to 40 rebel units and communicates their actions to the other command centers. Simultaneously engaging numerous regime positions in the province forces the regime's air support and potential reinforcements to be spread thin and leaves them unable to comprehensively respond in each attacked sector.
According to an on-the-ground reporter from Time magazine, the Battle of Reinforced Structures involves the active cooperation of Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as secular groups such as Afif Suleiman's Free Syrian Army-affiliated Idlib Revolutionary Military Council. While such cooperation is indispensable if rebel operations are to succeed, the fact that secular Free Syrian Army units are coordinating at such a high level with rebel groups deemed terrorist organizations by the United States likely worries Washington greatly. In fact, numerous non-Salafist rebel units have recently complained that the foreign weapons supply in the north started to falter after Jabhat al-Nusra was designated a terrorist organization.