The Stronghold of Aleppo

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aleppo-stronghold

Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War lasted for 9 months. Siege of Tobruk during World War 2 lasted for 8 months. The defense of Leningrad during World War 2 lasted 900 days. Tripoli in 2011 was taken in 8 days.

The battle for Aleppo has raged since 2012 and so far neither side of conflict has a decisive advantage.

Aleppo is not the capital of Syria, but its population in 2012 was 2.1 million, more than in Damascus. It is a major industrial center, with a pre-war concentration of electrical, chemical, textile and pharmaceutical industries. Aleppo was responsible for 60% of export revenues to the national budget. The city is also home to are military schools such as the Al-Assad Academy, as well as weapons depots. Protests against the regime did not affect the city for almost a year. The situation deteriorated only after the explosion at the headquarters of the military intelligence and the Sahour Square on February 10, 2012 as a result of which 25 people died. After that, the situation began to grow like an avalanche. In early July, the rebels launched a major attack in the region of Idlib and seized heavy weapons from regular army which enabled them to advance on Aleppo. The first serious clash with the regular army began July 20 in the Saladin quarter. July 21 the rebels from Aleppo and the arriving “Liwa al-Tawhid” took control of the streets of several neighborhoods, including Sakhura. Thus began the city’s occupation by the armed opposition. The rapid success of the armed opposition was largely due to the preparatory work by the Turkish secret services among some of the Sunni bourgeoisie in Aleppo. The Turkish government has promised the disgruntled Sunnis in Aleppo that the Turkish army would intervene if the militants seized the city, and then create a buffer state in Aleppo in which local businesses would be exempted from taxes. Turkish interest in Aleppo is testified to by the removal of equipment from 1500 city businesses and then shipping it to Turkey. Turkish motives are more or less clear: in recent years Aleppo has attracted investment, especially in light industry and the modernization of production facilities. Aleppo became a competitor to Turkish companies. As for the business community of Aleppo, Bashar Assad’s profession is children’s ophthalmologist. This profession is a reflection of the person’s character and his attitude towards others. If he were a bloody dictator, as he is painted Western media, Assad would not have hesitated to order his army to crush the protests.

Industrialists and entrepreneurs saw that the situation was not normalized after a year of mass protests the authorities, took this as a weakness of the Syrian government and decided to play the Turkish card. They represented an important component of the offensive on Aleppo, mobilizing residents of the city with the help of calls for jihad from several mosques in Sunni neighborhoods. It should be noted that the opposition initially was not powerful in the western neighborhoods of the city. On the other hand, the eastern neighborhoods were populated mostly by recent immigrants from the countryside, the poor and the conservative-minded Muslims. At the same time, Western districts are hereditary residence of the residents, as well as the Christian minority.

The battle for Aleppo is regarded as crucial by all parties to the conflict. The opposition plans in case of victory in Aleppo to create a base for conducting further hostilities along the north-western border with Turkey. For the “Islamic state” taking Aleppo will create a springboard for an attack on the west and south in the direction of Latakia and Tartus. In turn, the SAA’s task is to prevent these developments, as well as the Turkish intervention “to stabilize own borders” that would follow.

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Fig.1 Military Situation in Aleppo City on November 5, 2016. Red circles depict the areas of recent clashes

So why has the battle continued for so long? There are several explanations.

The first is the city’s dense urban and industrial environment. Wars of the 20th century have shown that the most difficult type of warfare is urban. Every house or building can be transformed into a fortress with firing ports for heavy weapons.

Fig.2 Machine gunner points his weapon through a firing port drilled in a concrete wall.

Fig.2 Machine gunner points his weapon through a firing port drilled in a concrete wall.

Cellars are already equipped with shelter from the bombs and shells. They can also be used as a place for rest and recreation. In addition, the cellar is an ideal storage of weapons, ammunition, food and fuel. Even destroyed houses serve as cover for movement of troops and equipment.

Fig.3 Armed unit take position behind a damaged car.

Fig.3 Armed unit take position behind a damaged car.

Minarets, bell towers, smokestacks are ideal for snipers and spotters for artillery and aviation. Underground communications are actively used by all parties to hide their forces and for their sudden appearance behind the front lines. Dense urban and industrial development creates difficulties in the destruction of buildings and structures in that it requires large stocks of ammunition and a large number of artillery pieces, or car bombs in order to launch surprise attacks. Armored vehicles are relegated to the role of fire support for the advancing infantry and cannot exploit their superior mobility or even protection.

Fig.4 Using a tank as cover from small arms fire.

Fig.4 Using a tank as cover from small arms fire.

Urban warfare creates command and control problems due to the proximity of friendly and hostile forces, and the impossibility of maintaining clear front line. The danger of friendly fire si high. Urban warfare consists of sudden, fleeting clashes, placing soldiers constant psychological stress. Urban environments also impede concentrations of troops, made intelligence and command activities gathering more difficult, and hinders radio communications. Without a doubt, in the city is much more preferable to keep the defense than to attack.

2. Motivation of the parties. Aleppo has been turned into a fortress, with besiegers (SAA) and the besieged (the armed opposition). The SAA has been bled by the four years of war and needs resupply and replenishment. Many of its allies, such as the Kurdish militias, IRGC, or Iraqi volunteers, come from the outside of the city which limits their effectiveness. There is constant media pressure against the SAA which is described as a collection of war criminals. Many of young males who would have been subject to mobilization have fled the city and became refugees. The militants also suffered heavy losses, and have been cut off from the rest of the world, but they enjoy international propaganda support. And they have no incentive to surrender, due to the atrocities they have committed. Therefore one can expect bitter fighting during the forthcoming assault.

3. Numeral balance. Neither side as a clear advantage in terms of the quantity of troops and equipment, when it is generally recognized the attacker needs a 3-fold superiority in order to guarantee success. Moreover, the advancing forces also have to hold liberated territory, prevent enemy break-outs, and clear the city of mines and booby-traps, all the while avoiding heavy casualties that would undermine SAA’s manpower even more.

It is difficult to say how events will unfold, but one should not expect a peaceful resolution to the battle since the opposition has no desire to give in. Likewise there is no progress on the diplomatic front, and UN Security Council peace initiatives are deadlocked. In military terms, everything suggests that the SAA and its allies are ready for action. The two-week humanitarian pause gave civilians a chance to leave. Both sides have used it to rest, reorganize, and prepare for the next round of fighting. The result will be a bloody, attritional clash that will leave many people dead and in which the victory will go to the side able to sustain the effort longer than the opponent.

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  • Serious

    Can’t understand. SAA has a cleary advantage as SAA has air cover.
    Can’t understand that terrorists have immediate gains when they attack without air cover but SAA take 1 building every week and say it’s a victory.

    Well, there is a problem.

    • Ilies Bekhtaoui

      saa don’t need to keep the territory , there work is just to kill the most possible and resiste until there forces are broke , saa fight in a defensive way , if you look up saa lost very few soldiers agaist 3000 + terrorists dead since the 2 last weeks , allepo is the great battle , if the terrorists lose allepo they are broke and lost for ever , retaking the rest of the territories will just be very easy against a broke organisation

      • Serious

        There is something wrong. The terrorists will keep coming from all over the world. So what is the strategy ? To let them kill SAA soldiers during 5 years and not bombing them ?

        USA is invading Syria east, Turkey north and SAA is stuck in Aleppo making no progress and don’t bomb terrorists when they attack. There is a big big problem.

        • Ilies Bekhtaoui

          no they lost thousands of soldiers i remember i saw so many sources i will search them up and show you , also what you need to understand is that russia is totally neutral to turkey and turkish and syrian officials made many deals until now , this attacks are coordinated , turkey will stop suporting the rebels and russia let turkey stop kurds from uniting ,also usa will do nothing , russia is using two spy planes over syrian borders to patrol over isis terrorists crossing and that’s why they called the that plane carrier and many other vessels just to have a powerfull attack force against any isis grouping crossing the borders , terrorist forces are finished you will see it’s been a time since russia didn’t mention any outside forces crossing turkish borders also they destroyed all there infrastructure and earning ways , without forgetting that at least 10 thousand terrorists are inside allepo and many thousands are getting killed aroud allepo , it’s all calculated my friend trust the russians , they know what they are doing

          • Serious

            I trust nobody. Do you rely on Turkey or US backed SDF ?
            Did you see the flags of SDF ? They are the same as FSA.

            SAA and Russia must play hard. USA is a hard player. You can’t be soft with them.

            What we are seeing is USA invading east and Turkey north and USA using terrorists and traitors as a ground support.

          • Ilies Bekhtaoui

            i relly on nobody , you don’t seem to get my point ,i said that russia made a deal with turkey they fight kurds (sdf) and force them out and so turkey stops fonding terrorists , reread what i wrote , so how i’m i relying on usa or turkey or sdf , for me russia took turkey out of usa hands , how ? because russia stooped the propaganda war against turkey and they re started a friendly relationship , so russia took what i wanted from turkey , so turkey can’t be a priority now , the only danger is the forces that can come from iraq to syria and this guys a under russia spy planes surveillance anything that crosse the borders will get fired and death , usa is in east iraq they aren’t invinding syria from what i know , i told you the turkish terrorists are just there to stop the sdf from uniting and also fight isis so they wll auto destroye themselfs , so it’s a win win for saa

          • Serious

            USA is not invading east Syria ? Haven’t you seen USA soldiers with so-called SDF ?

            You can’t rely on Turkey. For now, they have been backstabbed by USA so they turn to Russia but Turkey can return easily to USA if USA give them what they want.

          • talkativeintrovert

            What are your sources?

        • Marek Pejović

          no, the goal is far from just shoveling your citizens into death. goal is: for now is to strangle Aleppo terrorist pocket slow and steady preferably with as little SAA losses as possible. Aleppo in government hands automatically cock-blocks and diplomatic demands of any international actor for any important concession for terrorists and puts the Sy. government in a much stronger position. also, Aleppo will be able to start being rebuilt, lessening the burdens on caring for displaced people that syrian government has to contribute to support.
          long-term: inching forward one victory at the time and waiting out till international climate changes in favor of syrian government (as it’s already started). after Mosul is liberated, power balance will shift. Saudis are bleeding out on Yemen, it’s an implosion waiting to happen. Europeans are also getting softer on Assad. heck, even Kurds are getting friendlier thanks to turkish pressure. being patient and weathering it out does wonders.
          i wouldn’t make to big of an issue of supposedly unlimited supply of international inbred scum willing to die. see, those assholes killed so far in last 3 months were O.G.’s, elite troops, who came at the golden age of uprising. meaning, in recent 3 months the terrorist’s pool of experienced fighters and commanders has been greatly reduced. secondly, it’s funny: forget jihad, when the money runs out, they don’t come. the only ones fighting for free in Syria are Assad’s conscripts.

    • George King

      Serious, “terrorists have immediate gains” across open area and then are eradicated as they enter the killing field/s setup for that purpose to drain resources while exposing supply lines, communications and sources and staging areas of support. I suggest Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to help you understand the lay of the battle field/s.

  • S600

    1- Air support in military way makes sense but here most of the rebel forces are hiding in residential areas and using the local populace as human shields.

    2- All support infrastructure for supporting human lives has been destroyed and destroyed deliberately numerous times by rebels in the city(electricity, water supply, communications, logistics).
    Regime have tried to restore some of the resources but vital sources are in eastern side of the city.

    3- East side rebels are still getting supplies thru some hidden hands and until this could be stopped, the status quo would continue.

    4- Keeping the momentum by inching forward in the east Aleppo would force the rebels to make a move.

    5- As there are diverse group of rebels , they would end up fighting each other if regime suspends advance that would be a slow progress but would depend on blocking external supplies to the affected area.

    This city has more a political value then a military one if regime could block the border area with Turkey and then they could just attend the ISIS and coming NATO/Turkey/Jordan/Israel border area incursions.

    If regime could control all the borders , supplies could be blocked. For that to happen they need more tiger/desert hawk kind of forces.

    • Serious

      So you call the syrian government “regime” and terrorists “rebels” ?

      I think there is a problem of lack of determination. The governement is too kind and too naive.

      • George King

        Once again read Sun Tzu, ” If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. … The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. … Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack”.

        • Serious

          Well, you don’t seem to understand that Americans are doing what you quoted. They have subdued every part. They have benefit with Russia, SDF and FSA, Daesh and terrorists.
          That’s why I said that USA mastered the art of war. USA don’t fight but benefit.

      • Marek Pejović

        for your last sentence, look at Yemen and Vietnam.

    • Douglas Houck

      “3- East side rebels are still getting supplies thru some hidden hands
      and until this could be stopped, the status quo would continue.”

      I read that the Russian general who fought in Chechnya state that for Aleppo is would take 2 divisions?, (25,000 soldiers plus equipment) to fully block supplies/etc. getting into and out. Not sure who has the needed resources. Will mostly likely require a different strategy.

  • Serious

    The government wants to negociate with terrorists and Russia wants to negociate with USA, the invader. That’s the main problem.

    Do you want to win or do you want to loose ?

  • wimroffel

    A lot depends on how tight the siege of East Aleppo is. In the past government sieges were known to be loose – with the local government generals making big money by allowing smuggling towards the rebels. The fact that so many rebel strongholds have given up recently suggests that things are now tighter.

    • Marek Pejović

      excellent remark! More info please! or at least sources!

    • Michael Drysdale

      your correct

  • Douglas Houck

    I’ll add my two cents to the discussion.

    There has been a change in strategy and its unclear how coordinated it is between all the players. To me it seems that the attack on east Aleppo may be postponed as long as the jihadist fighters don’t launch too many mortars into west Aleppo, so that everyone (Kurds, Turks?, Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, etc.) can go after ISIS.

    First and foremost, the primary reason Russia is fighting in Syria is to defeat terrorism (both ISIS and Al-Qaeda) and prevent the balkanization of Syria. It is not to support Al-Assad.

    With the Kurds and Americans going after ISIS in al-Raqqa at the same time the Iraqi’s, Iranians, and Kurds and Americans are going after them in Mosul, now is the time for Russia and Syria to help in ISIS’s complete removal/destruction. The Al-Qaeda groups in western Syria have been neutralized and aren’t going anywhere. Syria, and if needed Russia, can get back to east Aleppo at some later date. The only reason to go into east Aleppo now is if the citizens of west Aleppo are being terrorized from the jihadist fighters in east Aleppo.

    Most of the recent attacks on west Aleppo do not seemed to have come from the east, but from the western jihadists trying to break the siege. Notice that there was little attempt from east Aleppo to help those coming from the southwest. Why didn’t they try to open a second front, if not a sort of pincer movement near the 1070 area? I believe this is why Russia today said they would continue not bombing east Aleppo as long as the jihadist didn’t cause trouble.

    Some other interesting notes: 1) The Kurds are in Russia today to ask for both military and financial support in the fight against ISIS. Syrian troops are staging in the east Aleppo province and the fighting in Deir Ezzor is increasing.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift in the fighting away from east Aleppo and toward ISIS in eastern Syria. If the US and Russia could finally coordinate their efforts towards ISIS, it would go a long ways to improve relations and reach some reasonable solution to the Syrian conflict, along with reducing the potential for a fatal confrontation between the two nuclear armed countries. A stretch I know, but worth the try. Just my thoughts.

    • Rafał Reperowski

      “US and Russia could finally coordinate their efforts towards ISIS” seriously? be serious.

      • Douglas Houck

        Yes, very serious.

        The following quote is from a TASS Sept. 5, 2016 article on Presidents Putin and Obama reaching an agreement at the G20 conference.

        “It is early now to speak of any parameters of our agreements, but I hope very much that the agreements will be reached, and I have the grounds to believe that this may happen within a few days,” the Russian leader said. “We can say that our joint work with the United States in the fight against terrorist organizations, including in Syria, will be considerably improved and intensified.”

        Not sure what happened. The bombing of Deir ez-Zor stunned Putin and ended the upcoming coordination of both countries desire to fight jihadist terrorists. From later statements by President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, President Obama may not be in control of the federal government. At this time is seems the best explanation to me, but who knows.

        We are simply watching on the sidelines trying to discern what is truly going on.

    • Marek Pejović

      in this super-realpolitik setting, i don’t really think Russia and Syria would want/need to help destroy ISIS just because other players stepped up. it’s more about using the ISIS power vacuum in Kuwreis countryside to snatch some territory on the cheap.
      but as for helping, i doubt it. SAA has it’s hands full as it is, and as Patton said the goal is to make another poor son of a bitch die for your victory. for the thoroughly bled SAA, nothing is sweeter music to their commander’s ears than making other armies fight and die for their victory (read: destroying/weakening ISIS).
      This is also the reason for push-pull, withdrawals, and very slow progress: while the terrorist scum likes to die (for their selfish causes) SAA are trying to conserve manpower. the war is going to be long and hard, and those same young men in army today will shoulder the post-war rebuild of their torn country. so, makes sense to go slow and steady.

      • Douglas Houck

        Here’s my thinking.
        President Obama in his Atlantic interview several month back (about his decision not to bomb Syria) states he did not like/trust his NATO country leaders, the foreign policy think-tanks around DC, his militaryCIA advisors, etc., and felt that the Middle East was tearing itself apart and that ISIS was the threat to the US and the world. With no one around him sympathetic to his view it seems that Putin was his only partner in defeating ISIS and stopping the insane wars in the Middle East. As Obama states in another interview, Syria haunts him.

        Putin felt he had a direct understanding with Obama on Russia’s intervention into the Syrian war. You have to remember that the Syrian Operations Office for Russia is in Baghdad and throughout all of this Russia and the US have continued their cooperation on military flights. I don’t believe that would have ever been allowed if the two leaders did not have an understanding before Russia entered into the fray in 2015.

        Remember that the US was complaining that Russia was not going after ISIS but Al-Qaeda early this year. Also, that the last cease-fire was to include direct coordination of the two countries military operations on fighting the jihadist fighters. It was the US’s bombing of Syrian military personnel that ended the whole affair. At the time Putin thought it was the CIA, etc. that independently bomb Syria. Putin felt he had talked directly with President Obama at China and there was an agreement. It really threw the Russians for a loop.

        My thought is that someway the agreement has been resurrected, and that a joint effort to fight ISIS is about to occur.

        Time will tell.

        (I may write some more on this), but hopefully you get my thinking.

        • Marek Pejović

          yes, you’re right, Obama has been very silent on the issue for a while now. even if he’d be sympathetic towards Putin, the deep state proves to be too powerful and (together with american allies) continue helping Al quida. may be that the silence is most Obama can offer right now. but, i don’t think Obama’s approval is really necessary for Putin. after all, russians and chinese had a standoff in 2013 and Obama backed down.

          I’m happy he doesn’t trust NATO members. this means that european members of NATO are willing and able to in general be against american politics in ME, and that they’re going to be more obstacle than an asset there.

          • Douglas Houck

            NATO members were and are very much about “regime change” in the ME. It is only President Obama, either through personal “weakness” or a sudden change of heart based on ethical grounds who was against launching hundreds of cruise missiles (Russians said >600) against Al-Assad and Syria in 2013. Everyone, Israelis, SA, NATO, US think-tanks, US Senators, power-elites, Hillary Clinton, etc. have stated that President Obama was “weak” for not allowing the attack to happen. If he had, we would not be talking about Syria today as it would have been all over.

            I’m still trying to discern which of the two options (weak or ethical) Obama falls under.

          • electron

            Weak or ethical? You fall for the trivial media nonsense, who consistently attempt to trivialize complex issues into black vs white.
            Smacking a child upside the head, and taking their candy does not make you strong. Not doing so does not make you ethical, either!

            On one hand he pretends to care about the people there, but he denies them their basic right of self determination. He basically denounced their democratic process, because they voted for the wrong guy, according to him.

          • Douglas Houck

            It seems you are passionate about the issue. :-)

            The term “weak” is not mine. As for the term ethical it may be appropriate.

            Obama is an academic who believes in a form of American Exceptionalism (think of it as knee jerk patriotism without the messianic part that Bush Jr. had) with no foreign policy experience when he became President. As President he lives in a bubble surrounded by people who give him his information. He has stated that on Syria he feels that based on the information and options given to him he made the best choice for America, although the results haunt him. If I was in his position I would be swamped and easily manipulated also.

            When in 2013 after the supposed use of chemical weapons by the Syrians everyone around him (and I mean everyone) were clamoring for Al-Assad and the existing Syrian government’s destruction. If you read his interview if gives one the sense of how alone he felt. I would also. When he comes down that morning and tells everyone that he will not allow for Syria’s destruction, he states it was based on his moral principals. That’s “integrity”.

            Now I’m not defending President Obama and he has the deaths of a lot of people and the destruction of countries on his hands. Something he is going to have to answer for. Still, he did not destroy Syria when he had the chance.

            Time will tell if it was integrity or something else. Stay passionate.

          • Ronald

            Ethical is being respectful . Syria has two oil pools , one off shore , the second under the Golan Heights , which rival Saudi Arabia’s . That’s on top of their developed oil infrastructure . Robbery is not respectful , and the tired excuse of “humanitarian intervention” is just “weak”. So if Obama managed to hold back the pack of dogs feeding in Washington , thank Heaven for some sanity .
            Syria had no debt , free medical and education , and a large prosperous middle class . The American war against Syria is illegal and unethical . Europe is paying the karma of blindly following American policy .

          • Douglas Houck

            “The American war against Syria is illegal and unethical . Europe is paying the karma of blindly following American policy .”

            I agree. At this point in time the American response to Syria is unclear. It appears that President Obama is not in control of his own administration, and the major federal agencies of the CIA, DOD, and possibly the State Dept.

            If America is truly about helping others, it would support President Al-Assad in the rapprochement with legitimate Syrian opposition groups and the rebuilding of the country as discussed by both the Syrian and Russian governments. At no other time have the Syrians felt as strongly about their country than now. It would do so much to end this insane, immoral war and bring stability to the area. A long shot I know, but one can hope.

          • Michael Drysdale

            well put

      • Douglas Houck

        “for the thoroughly bled SAA, nothing is sweeter music to their
        commander’s ears than making other armies fight and die for their
        victory (read: destroying/weakening ISIS).”

        Here’s another thought I had. I don’t believe the Syrian Kurds with the help of the US can take Al-Raqqa. The Kurds don’t seem up to it. To liberate Al-Raqqa will require more help and I don’t think the US public is wanting to send troops there and have them start coming home in caskets.

    • Michael Drysdale

      i have to agree with your veiw point on this , like you i noticed a change in strategy and wonder which direction things are going to go. even the once staunch anti assad media has a mellowing tone example syrian observatory articles have softer retric

  • SAA troops will keep besieging East Aleppo neighboorhoods.
    Once in a while they will attack certain areas, so that inch by inch reduce the rebels area of control
    Meanwhile, they expect defection, demoralization and partial agreements with some rebel groups
    On the other hand SAA will keep the outer rebels away from the city.
    Time is with SAA …