By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Hulayhilah, located in between Tadmur and al-Sukhna, was captured on the 13th of May 2015 by fighters of the Islamic State. The industrial town of Hulayhilah is a support facility for the gasfields and pipelines located throughout Central Syria, and served as their administrative and industrial heart. After the fall of al-Sukhna in October 2013, Hulayhilah became a stronghold for regime forces, which launched a successful counter-attack from here while supported by artillery then recently moved to Hulayhilah.
Although al-Sukhna was already back under regime control after just one week in 2013, and the fighters of the Islamic State never pushed into the direction of al-Sukhna after that, the heavy weaponry present at Hulayhilah never left the industrial town. While deploying heavy weaponry near a potential hot zone just in case does indeed make sense, stationing this kind of equipment in small, hard to defend towns creates needlessly large risks. The establishment of numerous large and well-guarded forward operation bases would likely serve the regime better instead.
Thus, in typical SyAA fashion, the town was massively overstocked with arms and ammunition, far surpassing the needs of the defenders. In terms of firepower, Hulayhilah was the greatest of all regime bases from the East of Tadmur to the West of Deir ez-Zor.
Apart from housing several tanks, artillery and MRLs, Hulayhilah also saw use as a forward operating base for Suqour al-Sahraa' (Desert Falcons), a detachment of which was present during the assault. More importantly, the town served as a communication hub to communicate with regime forces, mostly Suqour al-Sahraa', patrolling the vast Syrian desert. The loss of such modern equipment is a heavy blow to the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA), yet slightly softened by the fact that the regime has nobody to communicate with in Central Syria anymore.
here (WARNING: GRAPHIC).
The tactics used during the assault on Hulayhilah were strikingly similar as the same as the ones used during the assault on al-Sukhna; First, the high ground opposite to Hulayhilah was targeted, stormed and then captured, and the 14.5mm KPV and 122mm D-30 howitzer found here immediately used against the defenders of Hulayhilah itself.
The fighters of the Islamic State subsequently chased some of the fleeing regime forces down, which stood no chance in the vast and empty desert. Others that didn't flee fought to their deaths or were captured and executed, some of them after being found hiding in two vehicle pits.
The large arsenal present at Hulayhilah thus saw no action during the the Islamic State's spring offensive. The resident garrison was simply not aware of any assault going on in the al-Sukhna region, and as a result, none of the weapons systems were manned, let alone turned into the right direction. Even though Hulayhilah was well stocked and equipped to engage any enemy movement in the al-Sukhna region, the defenders never expected any assault on the town itself and therefore couldn't defend themselves against the relatively small force of Islamic State fighters.
One of the Syrian Arab Air Force's (SyAAF) Su-22M4s from the nearby T4 airbase attempted to raise the moral of the defending regime forces from the air but its ordnance missed the Islamic State's fighters. This single sortie marked the end of the SyAAF's 'aerial campaign' in the al-Sukhna region offensive.
The timing of the Islamic State's attack proved crucial, as capturing both al-Sukhna and Hulayhilah at the same time prevented regime forces at Hulayhilah using their artillery to support the defenders of al-Sukhna, and prevented regime forces at al-Sukhna to use their tanks to support the defenders of Hulayhilah.
Advanced communications equipment, such as the Chinese TS-504 troposcatter pictured below, was among the equipment captured. This is the second loss of such a system in a month, only a small number of which were delivered at the end of the previous decade.
The Ghaneema (spoils of war) consisted of various types of light and heavy weaponry, some of which seen below. Large caches of small arms and munitions were found at the site, including PG-7 warheads, large amounts of artillery shells for the resident artillery and a rare machine gun which was not yet seen in Syria before: the Hungarian KGK general purpose machine gun.
The Islamic State's spring offensive: al-Sukhna
Islamic State captures Tadmur (Palmyra) in new sudden streak of offensives
The spoils of Tadmur (Palmyra) airbase, captured by the Islamic State