Some 5,000 Shi’a fighters from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Afghanistan are converging on Aleppo to fight alongside “hundreds” of Syrian troops as the allied forces look to deal a decisive blow to the rebel-held eastern region, The Guardian’s Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen reported Thursday from Beirut. “The coming showdown for Aleppo is a culmination of plans made far from the warrooms of Damascus,” they write. [emphasis added]
"Hundreds" of Syrian troops? A key battle and the Syrian army is basically an observer for the Shia Foreign Legion and Hezbollah forces that Assad's ally (or master, more accurately) Iran pays for?
In related opinion, as I've been saying, Assad has lost so many troops that occupying all of Syria seems highly unlikely:
Russia and Assad cannot win, even with a massive bombing campaign. After five years of war and the loss of more than 100,000 soldiers and militia fighters, the regime simply does not have the manpower to take and hold territory in all of Syria. Even after all the killing and displacement, Syria remains a majority Sunni country, and many of them will continue to fight against the regime — backed and armed by Saudis, Turks, Qataris.
And with Iran backing Assad, the Arab states will have the incentive to keep backing Sunni Arabs opposed to Assad.
So even if Aleppo falls to the new offensive as two "senior" American officials think is likely, I have to wonder if Assad can hold it. Will the foreign shock troops try to hold it? Will Syrian militias be brought in to hold it?
If Assad's allies win this Nth Battle for Aleppo, I don't assume there won't be an N+1 Battle for Aleppo as rebels seek to retake portions of the city or just operate as insurgents inside the city.
Of course, I also believe that Assad could survive in a rump Syria in the west--with or without holding Aleppo--or even Damascus.
And I believe Russia would accept such a rump state as a victory if it leaves Russia with air and naval bases in western Syria; and Iran would accept that as a victory if they have overland access to their other client, Hezbollah, in Lebanon.
As far as Russia, Assad, and Iran are concerned, let ISIL have the east and good luck to the Americans to defeat them (and maybe pave the way for eventual reconquest of the east for Assad).
This battle for Aleppo will be fought by pro-regime troops far from the family rooms of the Alawites and their allies who provide the base of support for Assad's regime, apparently.
But what foreign power will provide the troops to secure all of Syria for Assad?
And at this point, given the high body count of regime troops killed and wounded, I wonder if Assad can hold a rump Syria if the opposition won't halt the war.