Tuesday, November 29, 2016

There Will Be Another Battle for Aleppo

Yes indeed, rebel defenders in Aleppo seem to be breaking under the strain of Assad's Russian- and Iranian-supported offensive. How will Assad hold the ground taken?

After holding their ground for more than four years, Aleppo's rebel defenders seem to be cracking:

Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-held eastern Aleppo on Monday, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave as rebel defenses in the country's largest city rapidly collapsed.

I've long felt that Aleppo is a bridge too far for Assad's forces to take and hold.

Four years after that assessment, Assad will finally take the city, it seems, unless Assad's ground troops are so thin on the ground that the rebels bring in forces to counter-attack.

And then there is the question of whether Assad can hold the city once taken.

Four years ago I doubted Assad had the manpower to control the city. After four more years of the Syrian army bleeding out and essentially becoming a skeleton of firepower and logistics around which militias can rally, how will Assad defend the city and control whoever remains in the city?

Assad seems desperate for men:

The announcement this week by Syria's embattled military that it will form an all-volunteer unit is an indication that the government is struggling in its fight against rebels and the Islamic State group, analysts say.

"The Syrian regime is running low on manpower," said Syrian researcher Khorshid Alika, who closely observes the dynamics of Syria's civil war. "They need additional reinforcements on so many fronts, particularly in Aleppo, Damascus and Hama."

This "The Fifth Attack Troops Corps of Volunteers" is no way to defend and pacify a city unless you are fine with killing and brutalizing your way to victory. Which Assad has no problem with and which could possibly work if carried out ruthlessly enough.

But a militia is likely to be too ill-trained and too ill-disciplined to be an effective force even in this kind of war.

But it is even more unlikely that Syrian people will be happy if the foreign assault troops like Hezbollah and the Iranian Shia foreign legion stick around to hold the city.

Unless rebel morale in general cracks, this Assad victory does not win the war for him. Even taking Aleppo is just the start of a long road back to controlling Syria (map from Wall Street Journal):


We'll see if Assad can complete the conquest of Aleppo and then hold it without losing too many men in the process.

And if Assad can take and hold Aleppo, we'll see how many volunteers he can get to reconquer the vast stretches of Syria still lost to Assad's forces.

UPDATE: I don't know why the map above is lacking text, because when I added it there was text on the map. Pink is Assad; yellow is non-ISIL rebels; green is Kurds mostly in the north;  dark blue is ISI; and that olive drab green is mixed. The blue areas is sea where the Russian squadron is sailing. White is just sparsely settled territory where control colors are pointless. See here for map original.

Strategypage has more. Assad wants the looming capture of Aleppo to be seen as a turning point in the war. Of course he does.

But capturing Aleppo (the left-most of the three top dots (cities) still leaves Assad with very little territory under his control with so many losses that absent a general collapse of rebel morale and the end of foreign support for the rebels, I don't see how this is the decisive turning point.

Also the Kurdish dominated SDF that we are helping move on Raqqa (the middle of the three top dots) is attracting more Arab rebels who see this group as successful.

Which is what I said a long time ago about arming acceptable rebels. People like the strong horse and if we help acceptable rebels succeed, the recruits will flow to "our" guys.

UPDATE: Looking bad for the rebels in Aleppo. A UN envoys pleas to rescue the civilians in Aleppo will fall on deaf ears--as they have for the last 4+ years.