BEIRUT – ISIS has dealt a blow to regime forces by recapturing the town of Maheen outside Syria’s mountainous Qalamoun region, raising fears once again in a nearby government-controlled Assyrian Christian town.
On Friday morning, Sadad residents asked to be provided with “heavy weapons” shortly after reports emerged that ISIS had stormed into Maheen, which lies 13 kilometers to the southeast.
“We ask all concerned, honorable and caring people to think seriously about supporting the town with heavy weaponry that will allow us to stand up to any attack,” a pro-regime Facebook page based in the town said.
“The matter is very urgent,” the Sadad New Net stressed.
The local news page explained that light weapons were of no use in “open, desert areas against vehicle born bomb attacks,” in reference to ISIS’s preferred tactic of using car bombings against fixed positions in the initial stages of offensives.
Gozarto Protection Force militiamen in Sadad. (Twitter/@GozartoPF)
ISIS previously advanced on Sadad in early November, however the group’s offensive was stymied after Russia airlifted members of the Assyrian Gozarto Protection Force (GPF) militia from the northeastern Hasakeh province to reinforce defensive positions in the town.
After deploying in the Assyrian town, the GPF insisted on November 9 that it would remain in Sadad “until its safe” and called on residents to return.
Two weeks later after the Syrian regime retook nearby Maheen from ISIS, the GPF announced its fighters were returning to Qamishli as Sadad was “fully secured.”
Around the same time Russia transported the GPF fighters into Sadad, a televised Russian Defense Ministry briefing indicated that Moscow might also have deployed an artillery brigade in the area.
On November 17, Russian TV showed a map that listed the Russian army’s 120th artillery brigade as being deployed outside Maheen.
ISIS storms back into Maheen
An image published Thursday by the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news purports to show the arms depots the group claimed to have seized.
Despite confidence among regime ranks following its reversal of ISIS’s early November offensive, the extremist group struck back and again changed the tide of the see-saw battles the southeast Homs region has seen.
“ISIS has managed to advance and recapture the town of Maheen and the village of Hiwarayn in southeastern Homs countryside,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported early Friday afternoon.
“Clashes are still ongoing between regime forces and pro-regime militants on [one side] and ISIS [on the other] in the area around [the two settlements] amid fierce bombing on areas in both,” the monitoring NGO added.
Earlier Friday, ISIS issued a statement announcing that its fighters had seized a number of positions, including the Jabal al-Kabir and Jabal al-Saghir mountains, which overlook the town, “in a surprise attack.”
“The soldiers of the caliphate were able to reestablish control over all of the positions, kill a number of Nusairis [a pejorative term for Alawites] and plunder an amount of ammunition and light weapons, leaving the Nusairis in the town of Maheen under fire by the soldiers of the caliphate,” the extremist group boasted.
Pro-regime Masdar News also reported that ISIS had retaken Maheen following a “massive counter-offensive.”
Regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes wrested Maheen—a majority Sunni-populated town—from ISIS control on November 23 following two-days of fierce battles.
The extremist group had originally seized Maheen on November 1 in a renewed offensive in the region near the vital M-5 highway linking Homs to the Syrian capital.
ISIS advanced into the region in early August after routing pro-regime forces in nearby Qaryatayn, a mixed-Christian Muslim oasis town situated on the edge of the Syrian semi-desert, where ISIS maintains a strong presence.