In Trump’s Shadow, is East Aleppo on Verge of falling to Regime, Russia?

By Juan Cole | – –

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian backer have thrown caution to the wind. No less than the Republican Congress, Damascus and Moscow know that Barack Obama is a lame duck. Understanding that Trump campaigned on giving Syria to Russia and preferring the continuation of the al-Assad regime to the possibility of a radical fundamentalist government, Putin and al-Assad have decided to simply finish off the rebels in the East Aleppo pocket.

Two Wednesdays ago the Syrian and Russian air forces broke a weeks-long aerial ceasefire negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Since then, they’ve been hitting East Aleppo civilian neighborhoods, and the front lines of the rebel guerrillas, with intensive bombardment reminiscent of World War II tactics, or of the tactics used by Vladimir Putin against Chechnya in 2002. At least two hundred innocent civilians have been killed in the week and a half of bombing.

In the East Aleppo pocket, some 250,000 civilians are trapped by about 4,000 rebel fighters, about a quarter of them members of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate and the others a mixture of remnants of the Free Syrian Army and Muslim Brotherhood militias, such as the CIA-vetted Levant Front. West Aleppo, the traditionally nicer part of the city, has a population of closer to a million, and has all along been under regime control.

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Middle East Online reports that the Syrian army has announced that on Saturday it established control over an important district of East Aleppo, Hanano, after fierce battles. The rebel forces admitted that intensive bombardment from the air, fierce land battles and high rebel casualties, along with the lack of hospitals had together caused their front to collapse. Hanano has been largely empty of people for months, but some 150 were allowed to leave Saturday by government forces.

The Syrian Arab Army launched both land and air campaigns on the eastern stretches of the city, in an attempt to cut East Aleppo in two.

If the al-Assad regime proves able to establish control over all of Aleppo, it would be an enormous victory for al-Assad after 6 and a half years of war.

The Syrian army communique said that on taking Hanano, units immediately began sweeping for mines and booby traps set up by the rebel fighters. Hanano had been the first part of Aleppo to fall to the rebels in 2012.

A year ago, the situation was reversed, and the rebels managed for several weeks to cut off West Aleppo from resupply, creating a looming humanitarian disaster. West Aleppo has all along been targeted by the rebels with indiscriminate mortar fire. At that time there were no anguished headlines in the West. As it happened, the Russian intervention broke the siege, which was barely reported in the US news media.

Now it is East Aleppo that is surrounded and being starved out.

Moreover, it is being intensively bombarded by regime and Russian aircraft, with an attempt to break the pocket psychologically by targeting civilians and civilian institutions such as hospitals. It is a charnel house. When you string together war crimes one after another, eventually you fall to a whole new level of demonic, that of crimes against humanity. That is surely what the assault on the East Aleppo pocket is. Nor are the rebel guerillas innocent in all this. They appear to be attempting to prevent civilians from leaving, and shooting some of those who try.

The East Aleppo rebels have made several attempts to break the siege on them without success, one of them recent. Rumors are flying that if East Aleppo falls, the al-Assad regime may announce that it has won the war. Certainly, it would then have all the major urban areas.

The Al-Assad regime has revealed itself to be capable of extreme brutaility in order toe stay in power. It now knows that it has a friend in the next White House, and that knowledge appears to have impelled it to go all out to make substantial gains even before the election.


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Related video:

Wochit News: “Rebel-Held East Aleppo Infiltrated By Syrian Government”

29 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Yesterday’s news also includes a breakthrough near Sheikh Lutfi with Syrian tanks pushing towards the Bab Nayrab district and a breakthrough along the airport road heading for the Citadel.

    Hundreds of civilians have escaped from enemy positions to Syrian government lines

    The attempt by a column from Idlib numbering 3,500 to break the government lines walked into a very professionally run Killing Zone and withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. The result has been to weaken the defences in Idlib.

    Destruction or surrender of the armed groups in the Aleppo pocket will release large numbers of Government troops to come to the relief of the 125,000 citizens besieged by ISIS in Deir ez Zoar. They are supplied by air and there are reports of starvation.

    Syrian government forces are pushing for the town of Al Bab to liberate Raqqa followed by clearing the Euphrates valley of the remaining enemy

    An armoured brigade is heading Qineitra to clear the Golan Heights.

    The Battle for Syria is more of less over.

    We now come to the more interesting problem of how to rebuild the country. Russian firms and Chinese and Iranian firms will get the lion’s share of the work

    Just as General George Marshall realised that Europe couldn’t be left in ruins in 1945 so we have to realise that Government of Syria cannot be left isolated and alone.

    I have no objection to a Trump hotel being built in Latakia.

  2. The whole point of the cease fire was to allow the rebel terrorists to leave the area and even do so with their weapons. Instead the terrorists chose to stay and keep maybe 250,000 civilians hostage and use them as a human shield. Stories abound of civilians being murdered by the terrorists if they were found trying to flee the situation. One thing is for sure, I doubt any civilian would stay there if the opportunity to leave were possible. Its hard to see what the Assad government, or for that matter any other government elsewhere can do in this situation.

    • The interesting thing is that about a third of the city was liberated today. Less that 10,000 civilians are seen. This bears out the comment by Ehsani one of Josh Landis correspondents who has been reporting that there are about 40,000 civilians and that the over-reporting is a scam to sell the UN rations to pay the fighting men

      • The figure of quarter of a million seems to go unquestioned, yet allowing for only minimal rations of 1 kg a day per person, that would require 250 tonnes of food a day or 7 500 tonnes a month for a siege of 4 months. Allowing for cooking gas and other essentials would probably double this figure.
        Possibilities are the enclave must have tens of thousands of tonnes stockpiled, the siege is leaky, or the besieged numbers have been exaggerated.

  3. Thank God Syrian Christians may yet escape massacre at the hands of jihadists promoted by Obama and Hillary, Erdogan and the Saudis. Not to mention their fellow travelers in US academia…

  4. If the rebels in Aleppo can be finished off with US/Russia cooperation, and the city positioned to receive the aid, medical, and re-constructive support it so badly needs, that surely is something all humanity will welcome. As for Assad, the tumults into which these last 6 plus years have drawn him must surely have so subdued him that he will modify his future conduct to the greater advantage of his people. If such an outcome results in Russia playing a more significant role in the ME that seems to me a good thing, not least because Russia doesn’t have so irrational and disruptive an obsession with Israel. The overriding problem for them is the US left the fulfilment of its global ambitions too late after to collapse of the USSR. and this allowed Russia time to re-establish itself as the principle impediment to such ambitions while also giving China time to awaken which, as Napoleon foresaw, would make the world sorry.

    • Assad’s regime has killed the lion’s share of the 400,000 dead, and tortured 10,000 political prisoners to death.

      • It’s probably a generational thing but I believe the verdict should come from the Syrian people. As it happens I wish for an era of universalism where all are the same and differences are no more than hair or height. However, I am not that sure about selective universalism, it bothers me, to me it carries a suggestion of white protestant superiority.

  5. The Assad regime is not innocent of many crimes but to take the story back to the US nor were the forces under Lincoln in the American Civil War. Civil Wars are usually some of the worst kinds. But in the case of Syria and with the opposition now almost exclusively in the hands of the very jihadist organisations which brought 9/11 on America and thus unleashed Bush’s attack on Afghanistan …what would you have? An Al Qaeda ruled Syria which would be little different from ISIS? And which US and UK troops fought and died to prevent in Afghanistan ( with scant success)? Assad is still supported by the many minorities who make up a large part of Syria because at the very least- undemocratic even brutal and autocratic.. he defended a secular state. I stayed in Syria in the 90’s none in their right mind ( and not jihadist influenced) would not have preferred that as it was to what has happened since.

    • Exactly. Leaders from Western-supported rebel groups like Al-Shams have promised to burn every Syrian shiite alive. How exactly is Assad meant to respond? How would any country? And what makes Assad’s behaviour so different to the US/Iraqi governments in Mosul and Fallujah? As terrible as Assad is, the alternatives are unthinkable.

  6. And how many people directly or indirectly has the US killed since WWII with all its invasions and Coups Juan? Who started the regime changes in the Middle East and in Northern Africa Juan? Who supports with arms Saudi Arabia the regime that is the extreme application of orthodox Islam and supports terrorism via Daesch?

    • Please, Sergio! Yes the US started intervention in 2003. Yes, many have been killed by US since WW!!. But get off your high horse. Dr. Cole writes plenty about US aggression. But don’t use that to cover over Russian and Assad agression.

    • Please! Your reasoning leaves something to be desired. If you remember, tens of thousands of Syrians protested peacefully as part of the Arab Spring. Assad bombed those protests and rifled innocent civilians long before the jihadists gained the upper hand among the anti-Assad forces. You are defending Assad’s actions against protesters in 1982 and over the last 6 years? How are you a friend of the Syrian people? Is your hatred of the US so strong you can’t hate Assad, too?

      • ‘protesters in 1982’ …? The assassination campaign against government officials that the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama was running in 1982 was hardly a ‘protest’. It was intended to overthrow the Government. What would the US Government have done in the face of similar provocation?

  7. Professor, why do you attribute most of the death toll to Assad? Had the US and the West stayed out, the situation would have ended up like it did back in Assad’s fathers time. In 1982, there was an uprising, and it was put down in a matter of several weeks, with about 20,000 casualties, and Syria’s infrastructure left intact.

    The alternative to Assad is in essence an Al-Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood government in Syria. It seems you are wishing for a Western style liberal, free market electoral democracy in Syria. Problem with this is, its like going into a vegetarian restaurant and ordering a T-Bone steak. You are not going to get it because it is not on the menu.

    Antoinetta III

    • Very well put, Antoinetta. John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State, delivered a speech on July 4, 1821 that included the line, “[America] is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

      Would those who call for intervention and regime change in Syria want another Libya on their hands? That likely would be the result. Countries that lack mature political, economic, and legal institutions are “built” into viable, mature nations only when a certain critical mass within the country is reached that spurs such development. That critical mass includes, but is not necessarily limited to, a standard of living that creates a reasonably-sized middle class; a respect for and trust in the rule of law; and the prospect that individuals can engage in economic pursuits of their choice. All of these act as a catalyst for a country’s population to demand greater political participation and leadership accountability. We cannot do it for them.

      Although no friend of the US, Syria did not interfere with US interests in the Near East, and we have managed those interests over a 46-year period under both Hafez al Assad and Bashar al Assad ruling Syria. We should have told the rebels from the very beginning that they could expect no assistance from the US. Our interedsts would have been better served had we done so.

    • “……why do you attribute most of the death toll to Assad.”

      The most reliable estimate is that 76% of the civilian deaths in the Syrian Civil War are attributable to the Baathist regime.

        • Mark, I did try to follow your links….The Business Insider just mentions it similar to what you have done. There is a reference to the SNHR which has a sampling of one month (the bottom line all the counts are provided by anti Syrian Government activists – who have a natural proclivity to exaggerate – see Nicholas Taleb reference above).
          While Business Insider appears to be a media business, its founder has an interesting history – quit wall street over security fraud!).
          I tried to find out how the IAMSyria site is funded but hit a black hole – maybe you can shed some light there.
          Bottom line, the references do not appear to be credible…
          Finally, a simple reality check would lead one to believe that east Aleppo would have had hundreds if not thousands of hospitals given that every day the ‘regime’ destroys a few.

          This is a sad conflict fueled by external powers with no love for Syria.

  8. I see that our (US) hands are at least as bloody as Assad’s since we were one of the primary sources of funding for the opposition in Syria. And we are plainly in no position to accuse someone else of brutality with our hands dirty from our illegal drone murders and our monstrous crimes in Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia.

    • That’s silly. The US has never given very much to the rebels. It is mainly Gulf and Turkish money. In fact the US interdicted medium and heavy weapons via observation posts on the Turkish border.

      What is interesting is that when the US doesn’t intervene significantly (Syria) it still gets blamed for killing “as many” as al-Assad, which is impossible, since al-Assad has killed 300,000 of the 400,000 dead. When the US does intervene, and probably stops a regime bloodbath, as in Libya, it is still blamed because the subsequent statemaking is messy. This isn’t analysis, it is just lefty laziness.

      • What I want to know – from reading your stuff on this for years & your advice on about 40 different rebel groups – how you or anyone else could ever believe they could come together & form a valid govt. – esp. 1 that would take care of the Xtns & other religious groups – even before ISIS complicated the matter!
        If defies belief, once we understand that they are Wahibi types with such rigid interpretations.
        Seems to me that even Iraq & Libya had far less divisions & are still, shall we be polite, messy.

        • In 2011 they weren’t Wahhabi types. Most youth wanted more freedoms. Even now most are not Salafis but MB

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