NW Syria Summary – 9 February 2016


" The Aleppo operation has now entered its deciding phase, whose objective is to take control of the entire length of border with Turkey. The West expected Syrian government forces to become bogged down in Latakia at least until April, when the change in weather would impose an operational pause. This area is vital to ensure continued supply of reinforcements and munitions  by Turkey, which is why its control is a matter of life and death for the Islamists. Fighting in Latakia and Aleppo is tying down significant Syrian forces which otherwise could be used to annihilate the demoralized militants in Idlib province. But now, as it to spite the West, the terrorists are on the brink of complete defeat in Syria’s north-west. The victory will free sizable forces that could next be used to defeat Idlib province militants. That defeat, in turn, will destroy the terrorist front leaving the militants no choice but to flee to Turkey. Erdogan is no doubt breaking out in cold sweat, knowing that his terrorist chickens are about to come home to roost."  politikus.ru



Rebel forces are giving up the fight in Syria's NW.  Having been defeated in their own minds, they are either fleeing toward the Turkish border in the case of the Nusra and other jihadi elements or in the case of the less theologically inclined surrendering to the government and in many cases joining government sponsored local defense groups formed to hold population centers recently re-occupied by the Syrian government and its allies (R+6).  There are local rebel counter-attacks here and there that may temporarily recapture some ground but the process grinds inexorably onward toward complete closure of the NW border with Turkey and logistical starvation for all the rebels in the NW.  To paraphrase Mao, these fish are flopping around in a sea that is rapidly drying up.  pl


"    The gains position pro-regime forces to encircle opposition-held portions of Aleppo City by severing the last remaining opposition supply line that runs east from the Turkish border into the city. The regime can sever this final supply line at two locations: an outer location northwest of Aleppo City on the road to the Turkish border that passes through the towns of Huraytan and Kafr Hamra, or an inner location in the city’s eastern sector controlled by the armed opposition, such as the Hanano District. Russia’s air campaign has consistently targeted the outer location for the past three months, indicating that this is where pro-regime forces intend to complete the encirclement. This section of the supply line runs through rural terrain that Russian airpower can easily target and Iranian-backed ground forces can ultimately seize, whereas the inner location is more difficult as the terrain includes both topographic and urban barriers to rapid ground offensives. Pro-regime forces are meanwhile taking steps to buffer their forward line of troops (FLOT) to the north of Aleppo to make it possible to sustain the encirclement. Pro-regime forces will likely complete the encirclement of Aleppo in coming weeks and besiege the opposition inside the city in order to force Turkey and Saudi Arabia to concede to a negotiated settlement or ceasefire. "     Institute for the Study of War  (ISW)


Once again, ISW has some good analysts.  In reading the work product of a group like ISW the "trick" is to winnow out the solid work from the political positions of the sponsoring organization.  The same thing is true of government organizations like the State or Defense Departments.


There seems to be a kind of map incompetence or perhaps blindness prevalent among the Western MSM (irony).  The situation in and around the city of Aleppo is consistently described as though the rebels hold the city more or less intact with a unified population of 300,000 dreading the approach of a foreign horde somewhat in the manner of the approach of Hulagu and the Mongols  to Baghdad in the long ago (1258).   In fact, R+6 has held most of Aleppo City for a long tine now with a small exit left open at the northern end of the pocket held by the rebels. 

The objective in the northwest of Syria is the general destruction of the enemies' forces and the recovery of territory and population across the region.  The City of Aleppo is a useful intermediate objective because the rebels will be forced to defend it in depth across the region and in so doing lose their "hats, asses and overcoats."  This is reminiscent of Grant's design of the Overland Campaign in 1864 (from the Rapidan  River to Richmond).  Grant knew that Lee and "his boys" (Grant's phrase) would have to fight desperately to defend their capital.  they did that their army was wrecked in the process.  pl 


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24 Responses to NW Syria Summary – 9 February 2016

  1. Seamus Padraig says:

    Is the MSM starting to come to terms with reality in Syria? Here’s a new article from HuffPo that suggests so: “The Syria War Will Not Be a Quagmire — Because Putin and Assad Are Winning” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/syria-putin-assad_b_9169998.html)
    Money quote:
    “To put it baldly then, as things stand, Syria seems to be heading not towards a ‘quagmire’ as many western politicians have suggested, but rather to a clear military outcome. As one knowledgable commentator noted, the negotiating table is not in Geneva. The true negotiations are taking place on the battlefields of Idlib and Aleppo — and what has just been negotiated is the near encirclement of rebel forces into a cauldron.”
    Granted, Alastair Crooke is one of the MSM’s more perceptive writers, but this could be a PR turning point nonetheless.

  2. b says:

    @Seamus Alastair Crooke is certainly not an MSM writer. He is an ex higher MI6 operator in the Middle East, a realist and someone who is generally more favorite of “the resistance” than of the Saudis.

    I wonder if the Saudis, Qataris, Turks, Israelis and the Obama administration will give up now or try to escalate. I don’t think they will. There is a lot of traveling and talk in between those countries now. New plans are made.
    – How would they escalate?
    – With what escalation would the Russians and Iranians respond?

  3. Fred says:

    “One rebel leader said he expected “something new, God willing” after the failure of the Geneva talks” If this unnamed rebel (quoted in Reuters) were a bit closed to the front he might hear the R+6 battle cry “God is with us!” and understand that the “something new” that is happening is victory.

  4. Jack says:

    IMO, the Obama administration is not going to escalate during an election year. The path of least resistance will be to allow R+6 to create facts on the ground.
    But….Erdogan, Saud and Qatar is another matter. They can’t easily walk away from their huge investment in the proxy invasion of Syria. What are they going to do with all the jihadists who they’ve armed and funded? They must worry about blowback when the liver eaters return.
    They question is can they with Bibi’s help twist American arms to allow a mostly Turkish invasion under the pretext of taking on IS? I doubt they can as Putin will make it clear that would be grounds for Russia to counter with ground troops and attacks on Turkey.

  5. Chris Chuba says:

    “I doubt they can as Putin will make it clear that would be grounds for Russia to counter with ground troops and attacks on Turkey.”
    Jack (or anyone else), are you suggesting an attack on Turkey proper or Turkish troops IN Syria in that scenario?
    One of the things I have been wondering about the Turkish population is how they would respond to getting significant casualties in Syria. I tend to think that the Turks are a reasonably tough fighting force, especially as compared to the marshmallow Saudi’s however, I would have to think that the populace would have to be sold on the need for such a fight. Erdogan did just extend his gains in parliament by being more bellicose, does this mean that the rank and file population is sold on his Ilsamification plan for Syria? I have been wondering about this for a long time.
    (BTW Col. I did read your post about staying on topic, I hope this passes muster.)

  6. Mark Pyruz says:

    Expanding on Crooke’s attention on an “expected quagmire,” the Western political and military preoccupation had been directed towards manpower depletion of SyAA, and later IRGC and LH. IMO this had always been a misdirection based on an expected– or rather, hoped for– outcome. IMO a focus on expanding tactical capabilities of IRGC, LH and Shia-Iraqi fighting forces in the Syrian theater is to be observed as a result of this conflict.
    Examples are numerous but to point out a few, imagery evidence exists of RuAF air mobile insertion of LH special forces, as well as the tactical deployment of Iraqi KH armor operated in the fire support role. There are even claims of IRGC operating T-90 MBTs during the drive towards the besieged Shia enclaves, that effectively severed the opposition GLOC north of Aleppo.
    Should the IRGC be successful in the Syrian theater (the Iranian view is a war in Syrian and Iraqi theaters), looking ahead this could impact the popular participatory component of Iran’s political system.

  7. alba etie says:

    Yes I have learned a great deal from Alastair Crooke’s writing – indeed he is not a MSM stooge – period. Then you wrote ” I wonder if the Saudis, Qataris , Turks Israelis and the Obama administration will give up now or try to escalate ?” I do not think they will either , and in fact I have been wondering for a good while now if the BHO Realist have slowly but steadily taken over the “Syrian Desk ” . I liked to believe that BHO knew that the AUMF to bomb Assad would be denied by the Congress – Which is what Obama wanted all along not to bomb Assad regardless of the alleged CW used “red line” being crossed . It also was helpful that President Putin arranged for the Russian & Chinese Navy to remove said CW . Furthermore each and every time BHO administration could have escalated like the No Fly Zone that Erdogan wanted the Realist in the USG prevailed and no action was taken. I believe all the rest of the goings on about Assad must go and even the latest rounds of peace talks where and will continue to be Kabuki theater until R +6 exterminate the Liver Eaters . Finally I also believe if and when the real history of taking down Daesh is written we will find the GB s helping the Russians alot more then is now being reported in the MSM. And that the Realist in the USG kept Saudis , Qataris , Turks and the Israelis from escalating the Syrian Civil War anymore either . ( Probably the huge Combined Arms military exercise the Russians are executing right now all along Erdogan’s border also helps bolster the Realist )

  8. alba etie says:

    President Obama is so personally pissed right now at Bibi there is no way that this USG would allow any kind of “Western ” military misadventure in Syria. But depending on what the facts are on the ground under a HRC or Rubio administration we might well see the ME tinder box relit by another misadventure in the Levant ..That is why this national election season in These United States we need to elect Sanders or maybe even Trump ..

  9. cynic says:

    The sponsors of the terrorists in western Syria, must surely recognize that their cause is lost. However, whilst the Syrians and their friends are mopping up in the west, the Turks etc. may seek to occupy some terrain in the east, either directly reinforcing ISIS or pretending to fight it. Perhaps that is why the Americans have seized an airfield in the east of Syria, and the Russians are countering by legitimately occupying another.

  10. Petrous says:

    NPR aired an interview with Mr. Alexi Borodavkin, Russia’s UN ambassador today. The interview was very one sided. The interviewer was reproaching the Russian for attacking Aleppo & the ” REBELS” , including Jebha Al Nusrat . I really have no idea how she could keep a straight face when the exchange copied below took place, with her asking why Russia was not attacking the IS:
    ———- (From NPR site: http://tinyurl.com/glm4tn2 ) ————-
    BORODAVKIN: Well, you know, the offensive which was undertaken by the Syrian forces in Aleppo is against, primarily, the terrorist organization which is called Jabhat al-Nusra.
    MONTAGNE: Well, the Nusra Front, as it is also known, is also viewed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., but it is part of the larger rebel group. It is not ISIS, which is what Russia claimed it was going after when it entered this war on the side of the regime. What about that? I mean, Russia is attacking rebels, mostly.
    So it is ok for J/N to be a terrorist organization (she even says that) and an affiliate of Al-Q but as long as they are called “REBELS” no one should lift a finger against them !? Amazing.

  11. kxd says:

    Colonel and co,
    Pardon me if this is a silly question, but I’ve always wondered about combatants( the less theologically inclined, as your put it Colonel) surrendering and then going on to fight for their former opponents. How reliable/trustworthy can they be? Do they not pose a potential security threat later down the road? They may not be ideologues, but they still fought against the Government not that long ago.

  12. turcopolier says:

    It is a consideration. The alternative is to just kill them. This is not the way to put a country back together again. We had a lot of former VC/NVA prisoners change sides in VN. They were quite reliable and lost with us. pl

  13. alba etie says:

    Which is why I quit sending money to NeoCon Public Radio – instead send it to SST or Pro Publica .

  14. Jack says:

    The Russians have already warned Erdogan that they can see what he is up to on the border with Syria. Erdogan I doubt will order his military to cross the border with lots of mechanized weaponry. He’s more likely to be the bulk of a force with the ostensible goal of defeating IS. Now, R+6 may be amenable to them moving east of the Euphrates. But that would likely be based on how they feel that would impact the supply of the jihadists. It’s pretty clear that R+6 priority is preventing the resupply of the jihadists.

  15. Jack says:

    As you noted the jihadists will need to reinforce their beleaguered frontline in Aleppo.
    It looks like a convoy got caught on the highway and the Syrian airforce made them pay a price.

  16. Bandolero says:

    It seems to me that the ISW misses the real outer option for encirclement of the “rebels” in Aleppo. What the ISW describes as outer option, I’ld describe as middle option. It’s a real option, but there is an option more far outer, that could be much more devastating for the rebels – and a lot easier to implement for the Syrian army: the option to go south into Idlib province from the western border of the Kurdish Afrin canton. That seems to be in mind of the forces in the kurdish Afrin canton,too. I remember that when the creation of the YPG extension SDF in the Afrin canton was announced a couple of weeks ago, they explicitely called themselves a force to liberate both the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib from terrorism.
    The only official border crossing – and the only possible to cross with a car – still in the hands of rebels from Idlib is Bab Al Hawa (linking Turkish town Reyhanli to Syrian town Ad-Dana) and that border crossing is a mere 10 km away from the Afrin canton. You may want to see the Afrin canton on a map here, very close to Ad-Dana:
    When the SDF forces of the Afrin canton were created they were far too weak for such an operation against the powerful Al Qaeda militia of Idlib province, but now that the Syrian army has linked to the Afrin canton via Zahraa it’s a completely different game.
    From Ad-Dana the way down to the powerful Shia enclave of Fua/Kafraya and further down to Latakia would seal the border completely – not only for rebels in Aleppo, but for all of the rebels in NW Syria. The terrain is mostly sparsely populated open fields, with only some minor hills in the way until Ad-Dana, and later at the border of Latakia. To me, such an operation looks quite doable, if the Kurdish forces and the SAA cooperate.

  17. Thirdeye says:

    Switching sides might not be a matter of choice if internecine war breaks out between hardcore and softcore Jihadis. We’ve already seen recriminations against FSA from the Al Qaeda faction over the loss of the Aleppo corridor.

  18. kxd says:

    Thanks for the reply Colonel.

  19. MRW says:

    Jesus, I appreciate comments like this, Col. I don’t know the Principles of War. I enjoy someone who does telling me–I I love chipping away at my ignorance–and giving physical markers that tell me how to assess it in future. I would like a little more of your kick-the-door-down sarcasm, but I guess you save that for special effect.

  20. turcopolier says:

    No thanks required. It comes naturally for me. pl

  21. Bob says:

    History is stuffed full of examples of things going bad at home when a country is off on a foreign adventure. Turkey is far from one monolithic group and if the Turkey military got busy in Syria there is a good chance that some one at home would look at that as an opportunity to stir the pot.

  22. Bill Herschel says:

    Turkey sending troops into Syria would require air cover? Putin has said that he will “destroy” any aircraft over the battlefield (I think that’s what he said). After Turkey shot down the SU-24, I think that anything with Turkish markings over Syria is going to be shot down by Russian missile defenses. Don’t I remember in either Iraq I or II a great deal of attention being paid to Iraqi missile defenses as a very first step in the war? The Turkish air force outnumbers the Russian and Syrian air force in Syria, but Turkey has no missile defense system in place in Syria. Thus, Turkish numerical superiority means nothing. Shorter version: no Turkish invasion. And no Turkish invasion, game over. I hope.

  23. Kunuri says:

    In Turkey there is huge popular resistance to any foreign adventure. There will be huge demonstrations against war, a la Vietnam. The youth are clamoring for a second Gezi uprising, even more legitimate than the first one, because this one will be labeled as an anti war movement and will garner wide international support.
    I think sane Turkey will stay put, and RTE will have to eat humble pie, maybe engineer a face saving move, but his Syrian dream is over, it will not be brought back on the blood of Turkish soldiers, most of them from poor Anatolian families.

  24. Kunuri says:

    I agree, Turkish General Staff are well educated and trained, they will not go into a hostile climate without air cover, and air cover is nullified from months ago as you point out. If the Russian jet had not been shot down it might have been different, Russians may have been persuaded to allow a limited, humanitarian purposed buffer zone where refugees may be met and taken care of by Turkey, UNCR, EU and Red Cross resources, provided no sanctuary given to the extreme elements.

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