The Battle of Aleppo

Red = Syrian Army control, Green = Opposition control, Yellow = Kurdish PYD control, Brown = Ongoing confrontation or unclear situation

It has been widely reported that since the battle of Qusayr Assad’s military priority has been to decisively turn the battle for Aleppo in his favor. Hence: a propitious time to look at the military situation there.

The above map represents the stalemate in Aleppo as we knew it at the start of June. Three notable elements are, clearly, a) the rebel hold on the North and East of the city and the conflicted areas to the West, limiting Assad’s secure supply routes to the South, b) Assad’s precarious hold on Aleppo’s airport, presumably vital for military provisions, c) the peculiar position in the city of the Kurdish PYD (Popular Protection Committees), who appear to take an independent position, opposing any intrusion by either party into Kurdish areas.

Unfortunately, what we would like to know, and don’t seem to, is what has been happening to the Aleppo stalemate since the government’s  “Northern Storm” offensive which began in early June, and is thought to include 4000 Hezbollah members. (For real Syria enthusiasts, this wikipedia piece appears to detail any and all military events known to have occurred in Aleppo since 2012).

At any rate, it is worth keeping an eye on the above map and the situation in Aleppo, and not merely in light of the important fate of Aleppo itself.

As Prof. Joshua Landis of Syria Comment has noted, Obama (and supporters of the FSA generally) would seem to face a choice between three possible levels of strategic commitment to the rebel cause. First, they could choose to limit Western support to making sure Aleppo is won for the rebels. Alternatively, second, they could choose to force Assad out of Damascus and into the Alawite coastal heartland. Or third, they could opt for preserving the unity of Syria and ensure total rebel victory.

What these choices underscore is that, by any account, saving Aleppo is the minimal degree of strategic success for the rebel campaign. That is, for the rebels to permanently lose Aleppo would, essentially, amount to them losing the war. As such, insofar as the Western powers have any genuine commitment to the success of Syria’s revolution, any swift progress of Assad’s forces in Aleppo might trigger a quick escalation of Western involvement, potentially even including airstrikes. In this way, as noted before, Assad had better tread carefully in pushing his military advantage, and his choice of Aleppo for his first major post-Qusayr offensive might yet come back to haunt him.

[Note: the other option, of course, is that for Assad to quickly win Aleppo would precisely constitute the saving grace for his regime, given Aleppo’s potential to irreparably destroy rebel morale and vanquish any remaining Western belief in FSA success].

[Note 2: for French speakers, an excellent hour-long documentary on the Aleppo battle]

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