Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Syrian Army has all but surrounded the city of Aleppo. Reuters.

Smoke rises from an airstrike made in support of the Syrian Government's Aleppo offensive. Reuters. 

The Syrian Army is on the verge of completely surrounding the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Reuters. Russian airstrikes have allowed the Syrian military to launch a major offensive in the area. Syria liberated two Shiite loyalist towns which had been cut off from the regime for 3 and 1/2 years. Residents in both Nubal and al-Zahraa celebrated the victory. The Kurds also added to the pressure on the rebels after taking two villages in the same region. The Syrian Army has essentially broken the rebel supply lines to Aleppo. For their part the Syrian rebels are desperately calling for additional weapons to try and hold back the offensive. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have called for an end to the Russian bombing campaign and the UN brokered peace talks have fallen apart due to the offensive. 

My Comment:
Aleppo has been a thorn in the side of the Syrian government for quite some time. The battle there has been fierce and it has long been a stronghold for the Syrian rebels. Should Assad's forces take the city back it would be a massive blow to the rebels. One that they might not recover from. Many rebel groups would be wiped out entirely. 

Still, Aleppo has come close to falling before but it has not. Time and time again, the Assad government has said that they were on the verge of recapturing the city but they have never been able to pull it off. What's different this time? I think it's obvious that Russian air support is having a huge impact. The Syrians can essentially recreate the same tactics that the Iraqis used in Ramadi, only with more conventional forces. Blowing the rebels up with airstrikes and then advancing seems to have worked quite well for Assad's forces. 

Cutting off the rebels main supply line  is huge. But looking at the maps I am not so sure that the rebels are truly cut off. Yes, the northern route to the Turkish border is sealed, but there still appears to be a western route. That area is controlled by al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in the region. Turkey and Saudi Arabia could theoretically send supplies and weapons that way but if they were to do so, those arms could and would fall into the hands of al-Qaeda. I don't think that Turkey or Saudi Arabia would actually have a problem with that but the optics of it would be terrible. Neither country could then claim that they are only supporting the "secular" rebels in Syria. They can barely make that claim now, mind you, but saving face might complicate things. 

My guess is that the rebels will largely be cut off from western supplies and weapons. Unless they can break through the Syrian lines again and re-open the northern corridor the troops in Aleppo are doomed. Al-Nusra will help in the West, but the main supply artery has collapsed. The rebels won't be able to supply their troops and may end up losing the entire city. Air drops are possible but I don't see Russia allowing that to happen. The rebels on the ground are on their own now unless they can somehow find away to open up the supply lines again. 

I'm also surprised that the Kurds are helping the Syrian government with this offensive. Not that surprised mind you, after all they are a major reason that Nubal and al-Zahraa were under government control, but I wasn't expecting them to take an offensive role. The Kurds don't seem to have much to gain by attacking the rebels, other then a bit of territory. And it almost seems like they are playing both sides against each other. After all the Kurds help the United States fight ISIS in the East, but also seem to cooperate with the Syrian regime as well. Their goals are their own though and I don't expect the Kurds to do anything that doesn't help them. If it means fighting the rebels for the regime then that's what they will do, even if they are fighting on the same side as the rebels when it comes to ISIS. I am sure it makes sense to them.

I haven't talked much about the peace talks and there is a very good reason for that. I never expected anything to happen from them, to the point that I though covering them would be a fool's errand. Too much blood has been spilled for the rebels to lay down their arms. They won't live under Assad and he does not want to leave either. He's smart not give up as well. Everyone remembers the terrible way that Qaddafi died in Libya, and I am guessing he doesn't want to go out that way. And fleeing the country isn't an option either since there's a good chance he could end up dead or in jail if he took that option. To say nothing of what would happen to his people, the Alawites. Leaving them to the Jihadist rebels would just be a repeat of the ISIS genocide of Christians and Yazidi's in Iraq. As long as that is true, Assad has every reason to stay fighting.

Especially since it seems like he is winning. Aleppo isn't the only place that Assad's forces have made progress lately. In the south they just liberated Sheik Miskeen. And they are securing the area around Damascus as well. Everywhere it seems as Assad's forces are on the march, and the rebels are getting pushed back. 

I think Russia deserves a lot of credit for this turn around. Many people don't agree with Russia's actions but it's clear that they changed the course of the war. Back before the Russians intervened it seemed as though Assad was going to lose. A few months of airstrikes later and Assad looks like he will remain the president for quite some time. Perhaps for the rest of his life. I don't think it is just the Russian air power though. It's the obvious morale boost that they are giving the troops on the ground. Before Russia sent in their planes, Syria's only ally was Hezbollah and Iran, and they only sent token forces. Seeing Russian jets pounding rebel positions must have greatly improved the ground forces morale and convinced them that they weren't alone in this fight.  

I think the only thing that could really hurt Assad is if Turkey or Saudi Arabia did something stupid. I am not expecting Saudi Arabia to do much but I have been seeing rumors on social media that the Turks might try something. If they do then that could really screw up the entire region because a NATO member would be fighting Russia. And not indirectly either. The Russians would fight back and they might go as far to attack Turkish ground forces. That could draw in the rest of NATO and everything would spiral out of control. I don't think NATO would back that move though, so if Turkey did attack then they would be on their own. Let's hope cooler heads prevail... 

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