The Aleppo Strategy against Daesh/ ISIL: Can it Work?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Washington Post was the first to broach the issue of Russo-Iranian grand strategy in Syria. It turns out that an Iraqi Shiite militia leader Bashar al-Sa`id, told WaPo that he thinks the road to Mosul runs through Aleppo.

I am always suspicious of the assertion that “the road to x lies through y.” The Neoconservatives informed us that the road to peace in Jerusalem lay through Baghdad. Now neither one has peace.

As Alarabiya notes that it is hard to see how taking Mosul back would have an impact on Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Aside from a few villages in its hinterland, Daesh has had little to do with Aleppo.

So why is an Aleppo campaign against Daesh more appealing at this point to the Shiite militias of Iraq than a Mosul campaign? As noted, Daesh has little presence in Aleppo, so the assertion of such a campaign itself is confusing.

What is actually going on here is that the US military is advising the government of Iraqi prime minister Haydar al-Abadi against an imminent Mosul campaign. The US thinks a conquest of Mosul by Shiite militias would look terrible. So they want to wait until they can get at least some Sunni tribal buy-in. Many Iraqi Shiite militias believe it is unwise to simply wait out the phony caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and want to take action now.

There is nothing to stop, however, an Aleppo campaign. East Aleppo is held by the Army of Conquest coalition that includes al-Qaeda and the hard line Salafi Freemen of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham), as well as by a separate coalition of remnants of the Free Syrian Army that decline to join the operations bureau set up by the Army of Conquest. Some of the northern hinterland is held by the PYD Kurds.

Government forces still hold the west of the city. And here is another set of differences with Iraq. Although it has experienced incredible rates of desertion and many setbacks, the Syrian Arab Army is still standing. Unlike its Iraqi counterpart, it hasn’t collapsed.

So there is an army partner for an assault on Aleppo, unlike in Iraq’s Mosul, where the heavy lifting would have be done by the Shiite militias. Likewise, in Syria substantial proportions of the urban Sunni population are supporting or complacent toward the regime, unlike in Iraq where Sunni support for the ruling Da’wa Party is slim to none.

Will reestablishing Syrian regime control over most of Aleppo help defeat Daesh in Mosul? No.

Moreover, nothing has changed on the ground such that the regime would be able to go on holding Aleppo were al-Assad’s minions to take it back with Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian and Russian aid. The problem for Bashar al-Assad is that he just does not have the biopower to hold more than about 60% of the Syrian population, and what he holds has been slipping.

So even if the Aleppo campaign goes well for the Russians and the regime, it is unlikely to go well in the medium to long term. And, it has nothing to do with Mosul, at all.

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Related video:

AFP: “Syrian forces continue offensive on villages around Aleppo”

Posted in Featured,Iraq,Syria | 9 Responses | Print |

9 Responses

  1. In theatre of wars, state to proxy interventionism are engaged in spheres of influence. Regaining tactical ground in Aleppo, maybe subjective, but it provides Russia with a relatively tangible PR result.

  2. If nothing else, taking Aleppo is the first step towards closing off resupply lines for IS from Turkey. That in itself would have a major impact on their ability to hold Mosul.

    Taking Aleppo is also important symbolically in that it brings Syria’s second city back into the government fold. It would buoy Iraqi confidence in their own attempts to retake their second city.

  3. The Shite militia may have other goals. The extreme violence and kleptocracy of ISIS is going to turn the population against Islam if they stay in power too long. The Wars of the Reformation created Deism. I don’t think the average militiaman will be thinking about this, but Sistani has always acted like he’s well aware of the sociology of religious belief. I was impressed at his desire to keep clericism out of the Iraqi government – political power for religions produces theological weakness.

  4. The thing with Aleppo and Mosul is that the Iraq forces are happy to just have retaken Baji but for a bigger offensive the need more support, especially if its for Mossul a town formerly inhabitated by 2,9 Million people compared to 200k in Baji. The US is not willing to provide this support, in fact iraqi officials openly complain about the scarcity of US help of lately and question their whereabouts. Meanwhile they have sided with the evil arch enemy(to US) Iran which is providing ground forces via Shia militias and air support and Russia which will bring in airsupport as soon as they are set up for it. For that purpose they were set up on the very same base the US troops are stationed, and hold their strategic meetings (with Iraq, Iran, Russia, Syria and Hezbollah) within a few hundred metres from them. But to be set up Russia first needs to stabilize the situation in Syria and get enough airbases. Therefore they already closed Latika civil airport, which enables more sorties against those moderate rebel groups but thats still is not sufficient since the numbers of sorties anitcipated are around 300 per day (as of today we are around 80). So i think you get it once Syria is stabilized ISIS will be easily wiped off, and therefore Aleppo is important, and also what PP mentioned it will block an ISIS connection to Turkey which to my amusement lies in the very zone the US established as their ISIS free zone, that splits the kurdish controlled territory.

  5. Let me spread my map across my lap, push back my bicorne hat and settle into my armchair.

    I notice that there are 3 logistics paths for resupply from Turkey. 2 deep in DASH territory and 1 running through Aleppo.

    If Syrian Government Minions and pals can seize and hold Aleppo, resupply for the non DASH rebels in the north will stop.

    The DASH forces will still have 2 main alternate routes deeper in their area of control.

    Taking Aleppo and surrounding high ground will free up 2 new airfields closer to the Turkish border permitting the Minion and Russian pilots to sustain an increased tempo of attacks, preventing resupply through DASH routes.

    As the confederate said; “he who gets there the firstest with the mostest” wins.

    And without Turkish resupply, it is likely not to be DASH or the various jihadis.

    And that is how the battle for Mosul can be won in Aleppo.

  6. As we have been seeing ISIS and the Iranian coalition are attacking the Assad opposition in Aleppo

  7. One thing the writer of the article has forgot to mention here, that in the last three weeks ISIS has gained territory from the Free Syrian Army and others in the West of Aleppo meanwhile the Russians were bombing them, it seems that ISIS is working as usual with Assad and its coalition thus do not see the Mosul nor the Syria ISIS winning card deal besides, as the Kurds put it, even them they are losing against ISIS as their people goes over to them for ideology and without firing a shot

  8. Brian St Paul has it right. Those black lines are transportation corridors. Russia will cut off supply and retreat in order to wipe out ISIS.
    The areas circled on the map are choke points.
    ISIS receives supply through Iraq as well as Turkey. That will soon stop.

    • The border north of Aleppo is not the only supply route for the “moderate” rebels (aka all rebels inside syria) and while the south is being supplied via Jordan mainly there are also plenty of airdrops happening, so there surely will still be some supply for those forces but they wont be as prosperous as before. You might be interested in these pieces of information link to wikileaks.org
      link to file.wikileaks.org
      link to wikileaks.org

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