De Mistura: al-Qaeda must leave E. Aleppo to save it from Destruction

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has addressed the Levant Conquest Front, whose leader, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri. De Mistura said that among the 8,000 or so fighters from rebel groups in the East Aleppo pocket are nearly 1,000 fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group. He asked al-Julani to withdraw his fighters from the pocket, so as to save some 250,000 residents of East Aleppo from being completely displaced and made refugees this fall.

The Russian Federation and the Syrian government, when pressed as to why they are bombarding and invading East Aleppo with such ferocity, cite the Levant Conquest Front’s gains during the recent attempt at a cease-fire.

De Mistura, an Italian diplomat, said that he would personally lead the evacuation and provide United Nations cover for it, if necessary. The Russian foreign ministry said that it is interested in the proposal.

The UN special envoy warned that

““In two months or a maximum of two and a half months the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed . . . Thousands of Syrian civilians, not terrorists, will be killed and and thousands and thousands of them may try to become refugees in order to escape from this. This is what you, we, the world will be seeing when we will be trying to celebrate Christmas or the end of the year if this continues at this rate . . . A thousand of you are deciding on the destiny of 275,000 civilians,” he said. “If you did decide to leave [Aleppo] with dignity and with your weapons, to Idlib or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally am ready physically to accompany you.”

American readers could be excused for being confused on this issue, since our press and politicians typically present the Syrian conflict as being among only 3 sides: 1) Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), 2) the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, and 3) the remnants of the Free Syrian Army, some 30 of whose groups are supported by the US CIA via Saudi Arabia. So American politicians and sometimes journalists erase regime-held West Aleppo (as many as 1 million residents) from the picture and call the East Aleppo pocket “Aleppo,” and represent it as held by freedom fighters who, Mike Pence says, must be rescued by American military intervention.

From the Russian point of view, there is a fourth front of the war, which the Americans completely ignore, i.e. the fight against the Levant Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front), which has its roots in Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and which spent eight and a half years killing US troops. In 2013 the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq and Syria split, with half of it becoming ISIL under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The other half became what is now called the Levant Conquest Front. It recently tried to dissociate itself from al-Qaeda, but al-Julani declined to renounce his pledge of allegiance to al-Zawahiri, so that news conference was not very credible, and certainly not to Moscow.

For reasons that remain extremely mysterious, the US CIA ignores this al-Qaeda-linked group, with which some of its own favorites have sometimes formed battlefield alliances. But for Russia, ISIL is a minor annoyance whereas the Levantine Conquest Front is the real threat, since it could take over northern Syria (it and its allies have Idlib Province) and then foment terrorism in Russia’s Muslim provinces, such as Chechnya.

De Mistura’s plea to al-Julani came as the Syrian Arab Army and its Hizbullah and Iraqi Shiite auxiliaries made the biggest advances into East Aleppo since 2012, taking about half of the Bustan al-Basha district and nearing the center of the Pocket.

At the same time, Damascus announced a lull in its intensive bombing of rebel targets in East Aleppo, which has killed over 300 people in the past week and done extensive damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure.

My guess is that al-Julani will decline to leave, and will continue to taint the other rebels in East Aleppo with the al-Qaeda tag, even though that is extremely unfair. Many of them are actually Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis but not al-Qaeda-linked.

As to whether the regime can, as de Mistura fears, take all of East Aleppo this fall, that remains murky. In the past, the Syrian army has had difficulty making permanent advances against the rebels in the north and east, often seeing its conquests later reversed. Apparently a wild card in the East Aleppo campaign, however, is that Iraqi Shiite militias have joined the fight, bumping up the manpower of the regime.

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Related video:

DW: “Syria: Assad forces push to retake Aleppo | DW News”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Reports this morning are that Ahrar al Sham commander in Idlib has rejected de Mistura’s offer. Easy to be brave when you are 100 km away.

    Says his men will fight to the death,

    Factions in Idlib fighting among themselves.

    SAA say they will pray in the Ummayad Mosque Aleppo today. A few hundred metres advance but symbolic victory.

    Very large attack into Sheikh Sayeed district with supplementary attack on the holdouts in 1070 housing project

    SAA advancing in Salah al Din district.

    Confused situation in the North of the Pocket. Half of Bustan al al Basha and all of Suleiman al Halabi liberated yesterday.

    Half of Owaija district was liberated yesterday so the rebel position in North of the pocket is untenable

    The tragedy of this situation is that 250,000 people 50% of whom want to leave are being held hostage by 8000 enemy of whom less than 1000 are Al Qaeda

    As someone said they would never have believed that the UN would be offering to escort Al Qaeda to safety

  2. I doubt that the potential confusion about Aleppo is limited to American readers.

    Western governments have invested heavily in the ‘Aleppo Media Centre’ and the White Helmets organisation. The torrent of media coming from these organisations is calculated to create exactly this confusion. IIRC, the ‘last pediatrician in Aleppo’ has died at least twice in the last few months.

    If you didn’t know otherwise, you would be unlikely to learn from the media that there is a West Aleppo with over 1 million people in it (likely including some pediatricians), and subject to regular bombardment.

    I suspect that much of this torrent is to obscure the curious behavior of the CIA in advancing the interests of al-Qaeda-linked rebel elements. Wouldn’t do to have the widows of the New York firemen killed on 9/11 on the TV news, wanting to know why their Government was in bed with the group responsible for their husbands’ deaths.

    And a last question- why doesn’t anyone seem to be using the description ‘human shields’ in regard to the civilians in east Aleppo?

  3. All Al-queda in E Aleppo should be killed & all support from US should cease. Enough

    Very important that informed “left leaning” commentators like Prof Cole, press Kerry Admin to stop aiding terrorism in Syria.

  4. I have no idea what the U.S. strategy is in Syria. Why is Assad worse than whatever would replace him?

  5. “9/11 mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri”, do we finally have “pretty good evidence”?
    More info on this subject would be welcome.

  6. My understanding is that the US is already bombing and shelling Mosul (>1M pop).

    Will the tactics being planned to retake Mosul be significantly different from the ones now being condemned in East Aleppo?

  7. Hummm–If all of this works, we may avoid WWIII at least this one time. That, along with sparing a lot of innocent people.

  8. But De Mistura’s appeal and his offer to personally accompany al-Julani out of East Aleppo does put a human face on the UN in Syria.

  9. My misunderstanding of the situation in Syria is legendary. Still, didn’t you leave out two extremely consequential combatant groups, when you only mentioned 4:
    Kurds as a whole, working to create or revitalize Rojava; and
    Turcoman forces that enjoy strong backing from Turkiye ?
    The simmering conflict between Turkiye and Kurds may have greater potential to incite a wider war than anything strictly within the borders of Syria.

    • I doubt that Turk-Kurd fighting will actually draw in any other combatants. The idea of Rojava is a complete non-starter for both Turkey and Syria. At the same time, both Iraq and Iran have their own issues with the Kurds. So I expect most of the others in the area to sit back and watch the Turks and Kurds beat up on each other.

      Antoinetta III

  10. The Authorization for Military Force Act, ramrodded through Congress after 9/11, states that we shall attack any entities that support the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks on the US. Now that it’s fairly clear the CIA is supporting rebel groups affiliated with al-Queada in Syria when does the bombing of Washington DC begin?

  11. Saint de Mistura won’t be jolly till Syria is Afghanistan about 1990.Where did he get these numbers, pulled right out of his UN flute no doubt. And it isn’t extremely mysterious, it’s to protect the source of the PETROdollar, the oily sheikhs and greasy kingdoms.

  12. “For reasons that remain extremely mysterious, the US CIA ignores this al-Qaeda-linked group, with which some of its own favorites have sometimes formed battlefield alliances.” What on earth do you mean here Juan? Are you stating that the CIA “formed battlefield alliances” with Nusra/Daesh/al-Qaeda? Many writers have stated that the CIA/Special forces have given arms/$$$ to these terrorists. Is it true or not? THX

  13. This purported breakdown of only 1000 Nusra fighters is laughable. Nusra’s dominance in east Aleppo is well-documented, and the other groups active there are almost indistinguishable in their Islamist outlook. Let’s hope for a quick SAA victory and expulsion of all terrorist groups from the city.

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