One thing about Idlib is that what happened has more to do with the incompetence of the defenders than the actual jihadists. The pictures and footage paint a picture of a force that thought it was on the easy front and made no preparations. They don't even use buildings properly. This is nothing like Aleppo and they make the NDF actually look good. So I'm scratching these idiots off.
If reinforcements are sent in then no the city won't fall. I think its actually a real possibility they could take it all back like in 2012. They would need to divert troops from elsewhere though. Now that the jihadists are in the city they won't make the same mistake these idiots did. Kicking them out will be tough and the city will get destroyed. I think it could actually be a good thing. Instead of fighting like Aleppo they should aim to just destroy the entire city. A Syrian version of Kobane. It would kill a lot of JaN and do the world a favour. I think it well worth it. A destroyed Idlib is not a big loss to the world. However the Shia village are important and should not be abandoned because of incompetence.
I don't think Ariha will be taken. Unlike Idlib city, the road has never been quite. The guys defending there have been frequently and constantly attacked and they have always defended themselves well. If memory serves Ariha is actually destroyed and empty because of the fighting that happened there last year. The army took it, lost it and then retook it. The entire population has fled a long time ago.
This doesn't say anything about the SAA over all. People who take the lesson that the Army is ready to collapse are doing so because its what they want to happen. What it says is though is revealing to be honest. In all honesty the SAA isn't exactly the best fighting force especially after it became a vehicle for corruption in the Lebanese occupation. However there is a big difference between now and 2011/2. Most of the army has actually improved. The incompetence that was common back then are less frequent now.
These guys in Idlib city seem to have skipped all of that improvement and stayed the same. I mean the reports do show they have inflicted a lot of damage on the rebels but they really should be above this level. Even the conscripts, NDF and Baath brigades in Aleppo are better than this. They've faced many large assaults and held their ground or retaken areas. The fight in Sheikh Said and the airport in 2013 that was eventually lost was much more intense than this. They make a mockery of what the guys in Aleppo go through. The police officers in Khan al-Assal who eventually got massacred put up a much better fight and killed a shitload of rebels. The rebels had to go building to building and fight for every single one of them over a space of a month. Even though they outnumbered and outgunned the police officers and they had them surrounded. Fuck even the guys in Harem who couldn't aim for shit and eventually got massacred put up a longer and better and killed hundred of rebels and dragged out their siege for months. By the time they got massacred the rebels who started the attack on them weren't the same ones who finished.
Standing around in a corner taking turns to shoot? WTF? That is what "moderates" do. They should be in the buildings. They should be blocking roads. Why the hell are rebels walking around in the streets of newly captured areas? There should be snipers in buildings that will force them to clear an entire block before they can advance. The only way people should be walking safe is if they made holes through walls.
The officer in charge of defending the city should either be killed by the rebels or executed for incompetence and cowardice. The men are understandable but those officers don't deserve to live after this. This is 2015 not 2011.
I can think of some improvements the next set of guys can make.
1: Rotate soldiers. If there are some who are barely fighting for months/years on end, they should be sent to an active area. They'll either die and have given respite to better fighters or they'll learn how to fight better. Keeping them idling for long is jut crap.
2: Make sure that Sunni Idlibis in the Army and the NDF are spread out throughout the country and not in Idlib unless they can really be trusted. Yeah its sectarian but too often these guys are the nutty ones.
3: Detain the families of rebels in the city and force them to either leave government held areas or go to Alawite areas. Having them in active areas is just a recipe for disaster. This is such a bad fucking idea from the beginning. I've alway questioned allowing rebel families to live in government areas but in places near the front? Jesus that is stupid. Your just asking for all of your positions to be given away.
4: In fact an even better tactic is to copy what the rebels used to do. They used to threaten soldiers that they would harm their families if they didn't defect. This really worked in Rastan and Idlib where you suddenly had a mass defection of people who really didn't want to defect. The areas were controlled by rebels and there was nothing the Army could do to help their family. They should take the families of rebels and have them threatened by Alawites. Obviously the government shouldn't do anything but they should make the threat look real. Rape, murder and what not. If the rebels don't defect then communication should be cut off so that they don't hear from their families and they think the threat was carried out. This would have great psychological impact.
5: ALL cities and towns near the frontline should have defences already built in. No joke about this. There is no excuse for not preparing the Idlib battle environment for a large incursion. It's not like they're in Hama or Tartous. There have alway been rebels just a few miles down the road for years. They've seen the youth camp and the brick factory got taken. They saw Harem and Maarat Al-Numan get taken as well.
I see people are going back to their old habits again. See the government get defeated, make major overblown case about the army about to collapse/assad resigns/rebels will win. As always it won't be true and in one month they'll become quite after a while when shockingly the army isn't collapsing. They'll come up with some bullshit like "well the army won't ever take over the entire country" and completely ignore how wrong they were.
But for real though, the SAA should really work on improving themselves. The incompetence is just fucking annoying. It's like watching a Tow strike on Aleppo airport again and again and again. FFS either build an embankment or take the area the rebels are launching the missiles from. It's not hard. It's annoying seeing the various shades competence.
When Damascus was getting assaulted they went over time on defending it. They destroyed entire blocks of houses that were to close to airports. They took useless tanks that were deathtraps, buried them. Made them part of defensive lines with mortars, AA guns and infantry. It worked. They absorbed the rebel offensive which was much bigger than this. These lines were eventually used has the starting off point to besiege the rebels in Eastern Ghouta. They later came into use when the rebels launched a massive offensive to break the siege. That offensive broke the back of the Ghouta rebels. They're not longer aiming to break into Damascus or trying to escape.