The last week witnessed dramatic changes in the ongoing battle of Aleppo. With the support of thousands of Russian raids and with heavy support in the way of Iranian-backed militias coming from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Syrian regime was able to recapture key districts in the North-East section of the besieged part of Aleppo. First, one saw the seizure of the Hanano district, which has been a strong rebel defense line since the beginning of the siege. Military-wise, as confirmed by on-the-ground independent military coordinator of the rebel factions, Dr. Abdul-Muneim Zeinuddin, the fall of Hanano signaled the collapse of the first defense line in that part of the city — subsequently creating a natural domino effect in other rebel-held areas, such as Jabal Badro, Sakhur Bustan al-Basha and Hellok (falling to Kurdish militias).
All things considered, we heard many pro-Assad — and, to a certain extent, pro-rebellion commentators — acknowledging the eventual defeat of Aleppo. Comments such as “Aleppo will fall within days or weeks,” or “the rebels abandoned Aleppo,” or “what after Aleppo,” all have the purpose of trying to force civilians and local fighters to lose hope and feel discouraged. As previously discussed, it is as much psychological warfare as it is a military one. The regime also reportedly sent messages to civilians warning of complete annihilation should they not leave these areas urgently. The regime’s refusal of adopting the proposed Aleppo self-rule plan — in letting the besieged part of the city govern itself under the condition of armed fighters withdrawing — only confirmed the well-known fact that the regime’s main problem is not only the rebels, but any civilian who opposes the current leadership. Nearly every deadly technique of murder (prohibited ones as well) has been used in East Aleppo against primarily civilian targets. In that sense, what has the local population not yet seen in terms of destruction?
One can also argue that this furious campaign of forcing and encouraging the evacuation of locals is a necessity to recapture East Aleppo, especially taking into account the lack of regime manpower on the ground. Perhaps, recapturing the city empty will most likely be a preferred option rather than to recapture it with close to 250,000 people in it. Although emotionally drained, the local population has refused to abdicate, hence heroically defying the siege and the terrible conditions. In fact, many decided to flee to other besieged parts during the latest regime advancements in the city instead of scampering to regime-controlled areas. Moreover, it is also important to highlight that while pro-Assad media networks are proclaiming a “great victory,” the regime only controls around 15% of Aleppo’s territory — the rest being split between the opposition, the Kurds and ISIS.
In a quick comparison to the city of Darraya, suggesting that Aleppo’s fall is pretty much guaranteed is a bit of an overstatement. The formerly besieged Darraya, a much smaller area, equipped with much less armed resistance, and with much less military capabilities in its surroundings, resisted regime pressure for more than four years. Provided the opposition’s military capabilities in Northern Syria and knowing the existential stakes of the Aleppo battle, it is highly unlikely that the opposition will bow out very soon without a fight. It is also expected that the southern front within the besieged part of the city will offer a better resistance, notably in the district of Sheikh Saeed, were insurgents inflicted Iranian backed militias’ heavy man and equipment casualties amid their persistence in trying to penetrate that strategic field. As for the factions outside the city, another “break the siege campaign`” might not be coming anytime soon. According to Dr. Zeinuddin, the last failed attempt cost the rebels around 300 to 400 men. With that being said, to launch yet another attempt to break the siege may take time, considering the important preparations that are needed for such a battle. However, they are more than capable of opening new fronts outside Aleppo to relieve some of the pressure on the encircled territory.
By all means, the resistant forces inside the city will definitely not be easy to defeat, especially indulging their insistence on staying and fighting. Albeit suffering from aerial inferiority, there is still a lot of urban, guerrilla-type fighting going on in many of the hot fronts. Naturally, those types of battles require more time than usual conventional combats since they mostly focus on liberating one building at a time. In view of that, many of the contested areas such as Myasar, Qaterji or Sheikh Saeed changed sides many times during the ongoing battles.
The recent merger between various opposition groups inside the besieged part can potentially provide a lifeline. The reports of the formation of the “Aleppo Army,” led by Jabha Shamiya leader Abu Abdelrahman Nour, was seen as a first positive step. Unity under one banner can definitely have many benefits; most notably giving a better platform for military coordination in the wake of current regime advancement attempts. Certainly, many Syrians are exasperated with their never-ending internal fighting and disunity. Should rebel faction leaders neglect that demand, one can only imagine the frustration and disappointment everyone in the revolutionary camp will feel.
In the midst of a strong blitzkrieg, accompanied by the massacres of hundreds of civilians, it is hard denying that the balance tilted back to the Syrian regime side. Given that, Russia and Assad might seek a quick end to the battle before the Trump administration enters office; potentially stifling any republican will to exhibit more courage and initiative to end the current disaster. As for now, the outcome of the battlefield is still not settled. Heated confrontations are still going on in a do-or-die, back and forth battle.
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