by Jason Ditz
Syrian military forces, backed by Hezbollah forces on the ground and Russian airstrikes, have retaken the Latakia Province town of Salma, along with strategically important hillsides around the town’s outskirts.
The Latakia Province, along the Mediterranean coast, is hugely important to the Syrian government, and has been contested by the coalition of rebels dominated by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which holds the adjacent Idlib Province.
Holding Latakia is also a top priority for Russia, as they have a naval base further south along the coast, and want to ensure that there is a secure path between the capital city of Damascus and the coast. This is why, despite the lack of ISIS in the area, Russia has heavily supported offensives against other Islamist rebels in and around this area.
In addition to the al-Qaeda coalition, Turkmen rebels are also active in northern Latakia. The Turkmen are heavily backed by neighboring Turkey, and have been targeted heavily by Russia since Turkey destroyed one of their warplanes over Syrian territory.