Saturday, December 17, 2016

Assad Destroyed the City to Claim He Saved It

This article argues that after the fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo, options for Syria's non-jihadi rebels are to go insurgent by abandoning territory; join the anti-ISIL campaign; or join the jihadis. What of these and what about the fourth option--continue fighting Assad the way they are?

The fall of Aleppo is surely a victory for Assad. The rebels have held their ground in the face of repeated Assad efforts for nearly 5 years.

But with Hezbollah, Iranian, and Russian help, Assad was able to regain the city. It may still be a bridge too far for the purpose of holding the city.

But the difficulty in taking the city and the importance of allied help highlights that Assad has very few mobile forces to go on offense. So yes, Aleppo is once again withing the loving embrace of the Assad regime. God help the people of eastern Aleppo.

And now Assad has to hold the city. That's going to be a drain on limited manpower that is mostly tied to local defense in Assad-held Syria. That's a major problem, as I wrote a month ago most recently:

The Syrian army has collapsed. In a way it is like an advise and support force of firepower, armor, and logistics backed by air power sent in to help poorly trained local forces fight their war. And without local forces--whether Syrian or imported militias--the Syrian army would be unable to fight the war.

Add in the Iranian Shia legion as the shock troops of the offensives and Hezbollah (which seems to have gotten out of that role in favor of special forces and armor because of the heavy casualties they endured being shock troops), and you don't have a picture of an army ready to control much more than they have--and God knows how long they can hold that if the civil war continues.

Defending Aleppo and controlling the people--including arresting the people--is manpower intensive and can't rely on bombarding the people when controlled by rebels.

Recall that despite reverses, ISIL managed to retake the city of Palmyra in Syria rather rapidly, with little apparent serious resistance by the Syrian and Russian garrison that must have fled, given the absence of prisoner or corpse pictures displayed by ISIL.

So the option of going to insurgency surely can apply to renewing the fight within Aleppo itself, but I see no reason why rebels who control territory elsewhere need to resort to insurgency to survive. Assad likely doesn't have the manpower to rapidly exploit the victory at Aleppo.

As for the second option, sure, rebels could decide to focus on the enemy of Assad, ISIL, rather than fight the regime that prompted them to fight in the first place, Assad. But how likely is it that rebels will decide that dying for America's objective is a good idea after all the death so far?

The third option seems possible, given that I've long complained that failing to support rebels we like just encourages rebels to join the most effective rebels fighting Assad.

But this option has to assume that the remaining rebels stop getting support from America, Turkey, and our Arab allies. When an Assad victory would be the result, would Turkey or Arab states who don't want an Assad or Iranian victory really call it quits at this point?

It seems to me that the fourth option of continuing to fight Assad and holding territory where they can is the most likely option to be followed in the short run, absent a collapse of rebel morale and a reduction in foreign support.

Many of Assad's supporters may party like the war is far away, but the need for bodies to fight for the "stability" these young Syrians crave may not exclude sacrifice from them for long. What happens when they have to fight to preserve the stability?

And how long can Russia afford to back Assad if we make Russia pay a price for intervention?

I just don't assume that we've seen the last Battle of Aleppo. After trying to take the city for so long, Pyrrhus might recognize this victory by Assad.