Today I have another long piece on the Battle of Aleppo, written by Russian military analyst Evgeny Krutikov. Aleppo is the final conflict in this proxy war, the conflict which ends in either victory or defeat for the forces of the Islamic State.
A quick catalogue of the players in this real-life video game: On the one side of the bloody battlefield we have various Islamist groups, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and so on, all alike as peas in a pod, and most of them backed and trained by the American CIA. On the jihadi side of the proxy front we also have the U.S., Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and (the silent partner) Israel. Turkey also used to stand tall punching above its weight, but recently bowed out, due to circumstances which everyone knows.
On the other side of the battlefield we have, as the main players: Syria, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah.
The breaking news of the past week were the military successes of the CIA-trained Al Qaeda troops. Cauldronized, surrounded, and squeezed off by Syrian government troops, the jihadi desperados, using suicide bombers and kamikaze tactics, managed to pierce a slim corridor through the strangulating ring. This Al Qaeda breakthrough occurred in an area called Region 1070, in a neighborhood of Southwestern Aleppo called Ramousah. This is a complex of buildings, spaced apart from each other, and including an artillery base and a military academy. Here is an English-language description of the battle from Reuters.
Krutikov points out this tactical success of the terrorists can hardly be called a “breaking of the blockade”. The terrorists will not be able hold on to any of this territory, due to the simple fact that they cannot provide themselves with supplies. The one single road which could deliver supplies to their forces, is under constant shelling by government troops and allied forces. (“Allied forces” meaning, mainly, Russia and Iran.)
Syrian government forces are attempting simultaneously to re-take Ramousah, and also an area called Tel-Makhrukat [not sure of spelling]. These attempts have not been successful so far. The jihadi advance has been halted, but now there is a stalemate, with the jihadists having gained 300-500 meters of ground. That doesn’t sound like much, but the movement of the front even by that much, is significant in this Stalingrad-type war, where every block and every building, counts. Before Ramousah, the jihadists were experiencing losses in foot soldiers, on a day to day basis, double that of the Syrian army. But now, even with the counter-offensive halted, the situation is reversed; the Syrian infantry is suffering disproportionate casualties in their fruitless attempts to take back Ramousah.
Krutikov is critical of the Syrian infantry, and of the Republican Guard, which did not bring in enough timely reinforcements. Leaving, for example, units of Hezbollah to fight in lonely isolation for several buildings in the artillery complex. In one case, a mere hundred men from Hezbollah were left to defend a significant object. Hezbollah was not pleased with the situation, and loudly berated the Syrian army for their “cowardice”.
Meanwhile, as the Syrian army was attempting to re-take Ramousah, Russian aviation was supporting the Syrian 4th Mechanized Division as it gradually advances into areas North of Aleppo. Here also the Syrian Battalion al Ba’ath is employing rocket launchers and other weapons, while Russian aviation bombs some settled areas in the Anadan Valley where the American-supported Moderate jihadist group called Fatah Khaleb is holed up.
Fatah Khaleb’s immediate tactical goal is to widen their corridor perhaps up through the so-called “Complex 3000”, towards that same military academy, which is named after President Assad’s father. They might also try to wrest a cement factory in Ramousah from the control of Syrian government forces. The cement factory is surrounded by mountains of sand – a perfect defensive position. Syrian government forces have to make a tactical decision, whether to attack the jihadis head on, or just try to keep squeezing them into a smaller corridor.
The main problem of the Syrian army, is that they are running out of infantry soldiers. Russian aviation can only help so much – by continuous bombing the Russians can at least keep the terrorists pinned down. But that’s not enough to solve the problem. Meanwhile the Syrian army has appointed a new commander, General Zaid Saleh, whose task is to sort out the situation in Southwestern Aleppo. Judging by his photo, General Saleh looks to be an ugly pug but a no-nonsense type of guy. Saleh replaces General Adib Mohamad who is held accountable for the tactical defeat at Ramousah.
Krutikov goes on to say, that it will not be an easy chore to dis-infest Eastern Aleppo of the jihadis. The rats have settled in and lived there, quite comfortably, for the past three years. They have accumulated tons of supplies, thanks to their generous patrons in the CIA.
And Krutikov finishes his piece with a quick catalogue of the other fronts of the war. Remember how rapturous everyone was when the Russian-Syrian alliance liberated Palmyra from the ISIS barbarians? Well, the barbarians are trying to worm their way back in. So Russian strategic Tupolev-22 jets were back in the sky over Palmyra just yesterday, bombing ISIS positions and thwarting the terrorist threat to the nearby town of Deir ez-Zor.
The good news is that the terrorist forces are also over-stretched: By moving so many fighters to Aleppo, the terrorists had to step down from certain other occupied positions, giving government forces a chance to re-take some areas. Instead of a giant all-decisive battle, this war has devolved into a multitude of small “decisive” battles. In some cases it’s down to tank vs. tank, or a single company vs. a single company of men.
The split now, as it has evolved, is this: On the one hand, the giant meat-grinder of Aleppo; and on the other hand, an endless series of skirmishes involving small mobile units of friend vs. enemy. But all eyes still are trained on General Saleh: What decisions he will make, and what will be the outcome of the Battle for Aleppo.