More districts of East Aleppo fall to Regime & Militia Allies

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both regime sources and the Britain-based Syria Observatory said Tuesday that the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies from Lebanon and Iraq had taken the district of Shaar in the East Aleppo pocket. In the past two weeks rebel forces have lost the northeast sections of the pocket and now the regime is penetrating toward the center of the Old City. Regime sources said they not only had all of Shaar but also had advanced into Karem al-Qaterji.

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Dubai-based Alarabiya reported that some of the remaining rebel fighters, estimated at just two or three thousand, are now proposing an immediate 5-day humanitarian cessation of hostilities. In part, this step is aimed at allowing the some 500 wounded in the southeast Aleppo pocket to be evacuated (little medical care is available in East Aleppo). They also propose that trapped civilians who want to leave be allowed to transit to the area northeast of Aleppo, which is relatively safe. Probably on the order of 150,000 noncombatants are besieged along with the fighters. And, they urge that negotiations over the future of the city be opened.

A big problem is that Russia and Damascus are in control of the military situation and do not need to negotiate, since they are winning. They also appear to feel no compunctions about their ongoing endangerment of noncombatant lives in the pocket.

Russia is also intensively bombing positions of the Levantine Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front), Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, in the northern rural, largely Sunni Arab province of Idlib. These sorts of aerial bombardment are relatively useless except when done in conjunction with an advancing land force. Such air-infantry coordination is taking place in southeastern Aleppo. But in Idlib the bombing is mostly for psychological effect, and also to keep the Levantine Conquest Front off balance. The remaining rebels in southeast Aleppo have made a united front with al-Qaeda to keep Russia from singling it out and dividing rebel ranks. Unfortunately that means they are formally allied with al-Qaeda, making it difficult for them to pick up outside support.

Since 2013, the Syrian rebels have turned increasingly fundamentalist and they have had one major goal– to cut Damascus off from resupply and so to take the capital, forcing the regime out of power. Their initial attempt to cut Damascus off focused on Homs and Qusayr, which the Nusra Front and other hard line militias took, and then used them to cut supplies to Damascus coming down by truck from the Mediterranean port of Latakia. But the spring 2013 intervention by Lebanon’s Hizbullah allowed the regime to recover Homs and Qusayr, and so to forestall a siege of Damascus.

Then in spring 2015, the Nusra Front and its allies took all of Idlib, and tried to use it as a springboard to take the port of Latakia to the east. This thrust would, again, have potentially cut off Damascus from resupply. If you take the capital of a country, usually you win the civil war.

But then Russia intervened by air to push Nusra/ al-Qaeda and its allies back from Latakia. That was the real reason the Turks were so angry that they shot down a Russian jet in November of 2015. The Russian intervention has allowed the regime to strengthen its defenses in Homs and in Latakia, and so to protect supply lines to Damascus. With Russian air cover, the regime was able to kill the leader of the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and to drive it back from the north of Damascus. The regime was able to extend control south and so frustrate the Jordan and US-backed guerrillas moving up from the south toward Damascus.

When East Aleppo falls, likely sometime in December, the regime will have control of all of the major urban areas of the country, some 80% of the population.

I keep seeing well informed Syria analysts allege that the rebels have 40 or 50% of Syria. This is not true. They have a lot of eastern desert sand. But I figure the rebels now control only 20% or so of the population, and that is about to go down to more like 15%.

Some analysts correctly say that the war will likely continue even after East Aleppo falls. But this point is only partly correct. Some groups will hold out in Idlib and in the Golan and on the Jordan border. But unlike with Homs 2013 or Idlib 2015, they no longer have a strategic path forward to strangling the regime. It is they who are being strangled.

So in that sense the war is over save for some shooting. The rebels don’t appear to have any prospect of actually winning. And that situation is hardly a platform for attracting new fighters. The rebellion is in the throes of a reverse snowball effect. Eventually it will peter out, though that day may not be near.

The crushing of the rebellion is a tragedy, since Syria has a seedy one-party state that tortures people to death and brooks no criticism. But the rebellion also did lose its soul on the whole, moving toward hard line fundamentalism and pledging to ethnically cleanse 2 million Alawite Shiites. It will take decades for Syria to recover from this moment of horrible choices on all sides.

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14 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    The big problem the enemy have is they are running out of ammunition

    AL Masdar reported last night that the Turks have arranged a surrender for most of the remainer of the pocket link to almasdarnews.com

    Syrian Government forces liberated Marjeh and Sheikh Lutfi yesterday leaving only Sheikh Sayeed and Sukkari in enemy hands

    Fighting was reported in Bustan al Kasir overnight

    It remains to be seen if they will do a last stand in either of these districts.

    There are still reported to be 10,000 civilians still to be liberated in enemy held areas.

    Prayers of thanksgiving are being held in the Ummayad Mosque of Aleppo. Luckily it wasn’t fought over.

    It will make a great battlefield tour one of these days

    I like Galbraith in NYT. Reconstruction. He is right link to nytimes.com

  2. don’t agree that the crushing of the rebels is a tragedy. the civil war, is, of course, and the sooner it ends the better. Although you are right when you state that the regime has blood on its hands, it’s governing is to be preferred very much over that of a bunch of rag tag militias (see Libya). But let us not forget who were arming these militias in the first place: Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, with silent consent of the US. If the US was really interested in peace in Syria, it would have supported Assad right from the start. There would not have been a civil war, no 200 000 casualties ,and no millions of refugees ( but admittedly, maybe a couple of 100 people killed in government jails). Obviously the US is much more driven by geopolitical concerns than by a genuine quest for peace, or for saving lives.

    • That said, Assad attacked the hundreds of thousands of non-violent protesters in 2011. The Local Coordinating Committes, one essential group, opposed international intervention and arming protesters. Quit apologizing for Assad. In August 2011, 2200 Syrians had been killed in street protests. Assad had plenty of opportunity to establish talks with dissidents. He chose barrel bombs instead, causing devastation early on that became a magnet for terror groups. It was only later that the world became aware that Al Queda and ISIS were establishing bases in Syria and thus the Assad vs. Terrorists meme grew. Assad was not only brutal, he was strategically wrong.

    • “The crushing of the rebellion is a tragedy, since Syria has a seedy one-party state that tortures people to death and brooks no criticism.”

      I largely agree with T. van Ellen. The real tragedy is not that these extremist groups will be defeated, but that ordinary civilian lives were destroyed through all this carnage. The secondary tragedy was that the entire protest movement in Syria that began with the Arab Spring mutated into something quite vile. This mutation was not homegrown. As T. van Ellen eludes to, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States were complicit in making an ordinary protest movement into an extremist movement. Had Saudi Arabia not funded the most extremist groups, the real opposition that has support of all of Syria would have been able to come to power. Instead, what you have is these extremist groups, overrunning whole sections of Syria, and ethnically cleansing large swaths of the Syrian population.

      ” But the rebellion also did lose its soul on the whole, moving toward hard line fundamentalism and pledging to ethnically cleanse 2 million Alawite Shiites.”

      The extremist groups have already committed genocide in parts of Syria and Iraq. The future tense in your sentence belies this reality.

  3. The tragedy was born with the non-Syrian financial and military aid mustered against the regime which destroyed any prospect for ordered political evolution. The regime was ruthless and might well have put the rebellion down but there would have been another, these things often require much persistence and advance in stages over time. Either way, I doubt anyone can argue Syria and its people are better off today than they would have been had the rebellion been confined to Syrians and put down by the regime. The others might usefully consider their own predicaments consequent on their actions. The Russians, although up to their necks now, only became involved when the situation had already got well beyond a local political rebellion.

    • ‘can argue Syria and its people are better off today than they would have been had the rebellion been confined to Syrians and put down by the regime.”

      Ok but that’s not the point. The point is that foreign intervention and arms distorted the strengh of the opposition vs. Assad. There were opportunities in 2011 for the international community to become more involved in a cease-fire and political dialogue through the US. Clinton said “Assad must GO!” Russia said “hell no! You screwed us by turning a humanitatian event in Lybia into regime change. Why trust you now”

      • But it is precisely the point. The ‘international community’ is the US and a group of allies with an agenda to oust the Syrian regime, some, far from all, with genuflections to human rights and democracy as remote from their real motives as the Sermon on the Mount was to Philip II in Mexico

  4. The accepted figure a few days ago was 250 000 noncombatants besieged in East Aleppo. Is it possible a 100 000 noncombatants escaped in the last week or so?

    • Yes, reports were as many as 80,000 escaped last week, 50,000 to Kurdish area and 30,000 to West Aleppo under regime control. Some other estimates had lower numbers of escapees, but I think by now 100,000 probably have gotten out. Once the rebel lines collapse, there is no one threatening to shoot the civilian escapees so they get out of the line of fire.

  5. The reason the jihadists’ desperate call for a cease fire won’t be accepted is that they used the previous cease fires to re-supply and strenghten their lines and in fact didn’t cease fire themselves. Fooled me once….

  6. The Rebellion is made up of a bunch uf US supported Terrorists. Even Dr. Cole has to admit that the “rebels” in Aleppo have teamed with Al-Qaeda, but that does not make them “bad people”?!

  7. There are probably no more than 5-10,000 in the remaining 8sqkm of East-Aleppo in the hands of the Islamists, mostly their Harem and children which they seem always to sling along. Most of them are from the countryside squatting the city when it was invade by the insurgents. Around 30,000 Combatants and non-combatants evacuated the city when most populated parts in the North fell. The Guardian had it right when it estimated the city’s Eastern part had around 50k in total, however 250k sounded nice propaganda wise.

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