Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Still a Bridge Too Far

Is the big push enabled by the Russian intervention really going to be aimed at Aleppo? I still think it is a bridge too far.

News reports say that Assad will make a big effort to advance on Aleppo backed by Russian air power and the Shia foreign legion recruited in Iran:

The visit [of Iranian legislators], led by the chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, came as Iranian troops prepared to bolster a Syrian army offensive that two senior officials told Reuters would target rebels in Aleppo.

The attack, which the officials said would be backed by Russian air strikes, underlined the growing involvement in the civil war of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's two main allies[.]

Are these Iranian "troops"--as in part of their armed forces or Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards)? Or are they volunteers recruited in Iran? The former is a bigger deal even if they number only in the low hundreds to act as shock troops to spearhead an offensive.

This puzzles me. I just don't think Assad has the troops to hold his Alawite homeland and Damascus, let alone Aleppo.

In July 2012, I judged Aleppo was a bridge too far. Later, I also wrote that even if Assad could take the city, he lacked the troops to defend it. Assad's troop situation has gotten much worse since then.

I still feel that way. Even if the small Russian air contingent and the small Iranian shock troop contingent can take the wreckage of Aleppo, how does Assad hold it? My pre-Russian intervention judgment stands.

I've read that many of Assad's supporters are extremely anxious to rescue Assad's supporters holed up in the Aleppo area. I guess I didn't blog about that. I meant to.

Assad's forces under siege in Idlib province managed to escape a month ago. But the people trapped in Aleppo can't make a break for it. They need to be rescued.

So it makes far more sense to me for an operation aimed at Aleppo to be a rescue effort to evacuate the troops and civilians still trapped up there and then retreat back to the Core Syria further south.

But even this isn't going to be a cake walk:

American-made anti-tank missiles are turning the tide against the Syrian regime and allied forces in a major battle in the country's centre and northwest, rebel groups said Tuesday.

Non-Islamist opposition factions say they are using the US-made TOW missiles to halt a Syrian army advance that is backed by Russian air strikes in the provinces of Hama and Idlib.

Assad probably has little choice but to try to rescue his people in Aleppo. If they don't survive, he might not.

UPDATE: This pending offensive is getting a lot of hype (and let me just say that I hate The Daily Beast website which seems to have a limitless way of locking up my computer):

At least 1,000 troops from Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah were massing north of the key Syrian city of Aleppo in preparation for an attack on the rebels there, a U.S. senior defense official told The Daily Beast. The coming offensive—what the U.S. military called a “major push”—would be the largest Iranian intervention in Syria since the war began and the strongest sign yet of an increasingly coordinated military campaign by three of the United States’ military foes—Syria, Russia, and Iran.

A thousand men "gather." It's a bit much to say they are "massing." This just isn't a large force. Sure, it is meant to be the spearhead behind which less committed Syrian troops can follow, but still, this doesn't seem as big as it appears to be--or needs to be.

And what will Hezbollah do? I thought they'd given their two-weeks notice to quit the shock troop role. Will they man newly acquired tanks to avoid infantry casualties? If so, watch out for those TOW missiles that will make short work of the old tanks they have.

UPDATE: Russia doesn't want to fight a war in Syria, as I've been saying:

Putin certainly realizes that some 30 Russian combat jets won't be able to change the course of the war, and allow Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to win. His apparent goals are more modest: to show all players that they will not be able to unseat Assad by force; to help cement the Syrian government's grip on the territory it controls; and to foster political talks that could allow Moscow to protect its interests in the region.

Another key task for Putin is bring Moscow and Washington together in a security dialogue, which he hopes would make Russia appear as an equal and eventually lead to improved ties with the West that were wrecked by the Ukraine crisis.

I really think that Putin is counting on President Obama and his Secretary of Flexibility Kerry to rescue him and give him a victory at a signing ceremony.

A successful rescue mission at Aleppo followed by some deal with America that saves the Assad regime (even if Assad takes a public demotion the way Putin did with his hand puppet President Medvedev for a while) in the northwest corner of Syria would provide the victory on the cheap that Putin would like.

I say bid Putin to have fun storming the castle and let Russia fail and pay the price of failing.

UPDATE: The offensive is on. The foreign support is a small part of the offensive:

"This is the promised battle," a senior government military source said of the offensive backed by hundreds of Hezbollah and Iranian forces which he said had made some gains on the ground.

It was the first time Iranian fighters had taken part on such a scale in the Syrian conflict, he said, although their numbers were modest compared to the army force. "The main core is the Syrian army," the source said.

How many of the more numerous Syrian forces are really capable of offensive action and how many are simply capable of holding ground gained by others?

UPDATE: I wouldn't be surprised at all if this is the real objective of the offensive pushing toward Aleppo:

Troops are also trying to advance to the east of Aleppo towards Kweires military airport, aiming to break a siege on the base by Islamic State and other insurgents, the UK-based Observatory said.

Supporters of Assad can take civilian casualties, as long as others pay the price. But abandoning other supporters is another matter altogether.