Battle of Aleppo: will it be a turning point in the Syrian war?

The Syrian regime forces backed by Iranian backed militant groups and Russian airforce have been advancing in the northern suburbs of Aleppo and have been capturing Syrian opposition held areas rapidly, which managed them to reach and to end the opposition three year siege on the Shiite towns of Nubul and Zahra, this advancement has changed the battle of Aleppo in regime’s favour which made them encircle the city of Aleppo which is considered to be the opposition’s stronghold in north of Syria since 2012.

The opposition forces have been the superior at direct combat with the Syrian regime forces and its allies which resulted in many victories by the opposition forces, but since the Russian intervention in Syria, the Syrian regime and its backers have changed their military strategy in order to win battles they send in Russian airforce to blitz the opposition forces positions heavily which allows the Syrian army and Iranian backed militants to storm it, this tactic was a success and this has managed them to advance rapidly through their opponents positions.

With the separation of the northern suburbs from the city of Aleppo, this will make the situation more difficult for the opposition forces to hold their lines in three different fronts from Syrian regime forces, Islamic State and Kurdish YPG forces, makes the stand for opposition forces almost impossible, especially when Kurdish YPG forces backed by Russian airforce captured Menneg military airport in Aleppo northern countryside also they took over a series of villages before reaching Menneg.

Assad’s objective

Since Assad regime forces and Iranian backed militant groups are closing in Aleppo, Saudi Arabia and its allies said they could send in ground troops could this tip the battle for the opposition forces. The city of Aleppo is a strategic city for both sides, the opposition are considering to be their stronghold plus it’s close to the Turkish borders where they have Bab Salama cross border which is the only gate to the outside world.  The battle for Aleppo has become clear to the Syrian opposition that the Syrian regime and its allies are more interested in securing a military victory over the opposition than negotiating a peace settlement.

Regime Campaign - Aleppo FEB 2016-01

The Syrian regime forces are willing to surround Aleppo then lay siege to the opposition held side of the city also they are willing to advance to towards the Bab Salama cross border with effective Russian airstrikes. So they could capture it to weaken the opposition forces in the north. Most of the opposition forces in north [Aleppo and its surrounding] are linked to the FSA, Assad wants to weaken or destroy them to weaken their voices, so President Assad can tell the world it’s me or the terrorists meaning Nusra Front and Islamic State. If they have the upper hand on the ground than they will have the advantage on the negotiating table.

Effects

The regional allies of the Syrian opposition [Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar] are facing serious challenges to the new situation and the progress from their rivals [Russia and Iran] on the Syrian conflict. Things could go more complicated for the opposition forces with continues absence of effective weapons delivered to them.

The willingness of parties on both sides to pursue further conflict will only serve to prolong the bloodshed of the Syrian War and worsen the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. UN officials reported that nearly 40,000 civilians fled the southern countryside of Aleppo City amidst Syrian regime operations in October 2015, while at least 70,000 civilians have fled the latest round of clashes in northern suburbs of Aleppo.

Assad regime forces will continue to advance and lay siege on Aleppo’s residents and opposition fighters until they surrender or die from starvation, this tactic was been used before in many locations like Madaya, Zabadani, and other towns. More than 400,000 people will be at serious risk of starvation.

If President Assad chooses to negotiate, he will be doing so from a position of strength depending on results from the battle ground. For Assad personally, regaining Aleppo will serve as a major propaganda coup and increase up his support among those still supporting the Syrian regime in Damascus and Latakia.

Russia’s intervention in Syria should not be viewed in isolation. The capture of Aleppo means that Moscow will have many more bargaining chips when it comes to dealing with the West over issues such as Ukraine or Georgia. Moscow has a long history of linking different issues to its advantage at the international negotiating table – what Russia is doing in Syria is no different.

Many observations see that the United States are becoming more closer with Russia and Iran policies regarding the Syrian conflict, this has angered the allies [Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar] of the Syrian opposition. Turkish officials were angry the most at the United States because they support PYD which is the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Kurdish YPG forces are advancing with support of Russian and US airforce and it’s more likely they will advance towards the town of Azaz especially when the opposition forces are surrounded in northern suburbs of Aleppo.

Saudi Arabia offered to send in ground troops to battle against Islamic State since the US led coalition has not managed to weaken them since airstrikes alone is not an effective way to defeat them. Saudi Arabia has been very clear that it will not accept President Assad staying in power and has previously threatened to remove him by military force if he does not give up his power.

Few options left for the Opposition?

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) which is the first political entity that combines the political opposition parties and opposition military factions, which are facing now tough moments including the poor support from their allies. Since the continuing Russian brutal bombardment on Aleppo and its surrounding and Syrian opposition forces have admitted that they have lost so much and might not continue to hold much longer due to lack of military support [they haven’t received a single bullet for more than 4 months] from their allies which is disappointing for them.

So what options do they have left?

Syrian opposition forces must force all the civilians who live in Aleppo and it’s surrounding to leave their homes and flee to Turkey, this will help to save the lives of civilians and at the same time this will force Turkey to make a huge pressure on the international community and the Obama administration to move on and support the opposition forces.

Allies of the Syrian opposition like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia must put real pressure on the Obama administration to allow them to intervene and save Aleppo from the Assad regime\Iranian\Hezbollah advancement. They must supply the opposition groups with effective weapons and Turkey must aid the opposition forces by artillery fire if the Assad regime forces advances so closely to the Turkish borders.

High Negotiations Committee (HNC) should still maintain its position of not negotiating with the Assad regime officials until they allow humanitarian aid into the villages and towns which are under siege by Assad regime forces, most importantly The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 must be implemented.

They must accept the announcement of temporary ceasefire if it was offered, the United States also in favour of short term ceasefire and this can be done through negations with Russia and Iran, if the it happens the Syrian opposition forces must take this opportunity to fortify Aleppo city, re-organizing their forces [unification] and setting up a new defensive positions around it and most importantly try to stock many humanitarian needs as possible in case Assad regime forces violates the ceasefire and sets siege on the Aleppo city.

 

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