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Comments on the battle for Aleppo Elijah Magnier
(Posted on Twitter end July/early August)
There are 11 Jihadists and 11 non-Jihadists groups, all together in this Aleppo battle, working together and fighting side by side.
Previous information confirmed Jabhat al-Nusra (JFS) is holding bodies of #Russia officers & pilots & that Ahrar al-Sham was the negotiator
"Public institution 4prisoners" is asking: 1. "liberation of all prisoners held by regime & Hezbollah" 2. "Lifting of siege on all cities".
Rebels gathered mltnts from different frnts 4Aleppo. If this fail, it will be a hard hit 4long,w/ blame 2each other
All ground troops are under Iran command. Russia coordinates with Iran ( country) not with groups.
Although Nusra & rebels maintain media black out, their attack on #Aleppo Ramous and Mansoura failed to achieve the desired objective.
Fatimiyoun are badly trained, unprepared: Iran unwilling to inject adequate forces
Russia is aggressively refreshing Syria army armament (that is new info)
If Iran injects more troops, regional countries will behave differently with rebels
Russian AF is active daily but rebels, including Nusra, injected large number of militants. No 2be underestimated
It was only due to Russia air support that SAA and allies managed to circle Aleppo+
Russia gave up on advertising strikes but these are tens every single day non stop
Russia was complaining about lack of enough Iranian forces on the ground. Nobody can win by AF only
Russia no longer believe in #USA will of cease-fire or peace process. Aleppo is important 4 everybody
No Iranian regular troops, just usual advisors. Iran allies r deployed own this front (Aleppo). Russia wants Aleppo more than Iran
Elijah Magnier is a leading Arab war correspondent writing for the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Rai.
The Larger Context Of The Jihadi Attack On Aleppo
Moon of Alabama blog, 1 August 2016
Al-Qaeda in Syria and associated forces are currently driving a large scale attack from the south-west into Aleppo city. Their aim is to create a new corridor between the Idleb/Aleppo rural areas they occupy and the besieged al-Qaeda controlled areas in east-Aleppo. Between 5,000 and 10,000 al-Qaeda fighters, using U.S. supplied equipment, are taking part in the battle. Formally some of the fighters are "moderates" but in reality all this groups are by now committed to implement Sharia law and to thereby suppress all minorities. They made some initial progress against government forces but are under fierce attack from the Syrian and Russian air forces.
The Russian General Staff has warned since April that al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra aka Fateh al Sham) and the various attached Jihadi groups were planing a large scale attack on Aleppo. An al-Qaeda commander confirmed such long term planning in a pep-talk to his fighters before the current attack.
This shines a new light on the protracted talks Secretary of State Kerry has had for month with his Russian colleague. The U.S. tried to exempt al-Qaeda from Russian and Syrian attacks even as UN Security Council Resolutions demanded that al-Qaeda and ISIS areas be eradicated. Then the U.S. tried to make an "offer" to Russia to collectively fight al-Qaeda should Russia put its own and Syrian forces under U.S. control. We called this offer deceptive nonsense. All this, it now seems, was delaying talk to allow al-Qaeda to prepare for the now launched attack.
Another step in the delaying, though a failed one, was the re-branding of Jabhat al-Nusra as Fateh al-Sham. Some "western" media called that a split from al-Qaeda but in reality is was a merging of al-Qaeda central and Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria under a disguis[ed] new label. Al-Qaeda's Qatari sponsors had demanded the re-branding so al-Qaeda in Syria could publicly be sold to "western" governments and their public as "moderate rebels". But the sham failed. It was too obvious a fake to be taken seriously. The "western" support for al-Qaeda will have to continue secretly and in limited form.
The current attack on Aleppo is serious. The Syrian army lacks ground forces. Significant professional ground forces from Iran were promised but never arrived. Iran was still dreaming of an accord with the U.S. and therefore holding back on its engagement in Syria. The Afghan farmer battalions Iran recruited are not an alternative for professional troops. Defending against an enemy that is using lots of suicide vehicle bombs to breach fortifications and death-seeking Jihadis to storm field positions is difficult. It demands diligent preparation excellent command and control.
If this attack can be defeated the huge losses al-Qaeda will have to take might end its open military style war. If al-Qaeda succeeds with the attack the Syrian army will need very significant additional ground forces to regain the initiative.
But no matter how that battle goes strategically the U.S. is sniffing defeat in its regime change endeavor. It is now proposing to split Syria. Syria and all its neighbors are against this. It will, in the end, not happen, but the damage Washington will create until it acknowledges that fact could be serious. Russia can and should prevent such U.S. attempts of large scale social engineering.
Russia on the other side has now to decide if it wants to escalate enough to create more than the current stalemate. Over time a stalemate becomes expansive and it may, at any time, suddenly turn into defeat. The U.S. negotiation positions so far were obviously not serious. The U.S. delayed to allow for further large attacks on the Syrian government. The alternative for Russia is to either leave Syria completely or to escalate enough to decisively defeat the Jihadis. That is not an easy decision.
Today some Jihadis shot down another Russian helicopter over Syria. The bloody body of the dead pilot was dragged through the mud by some local nuts and the video thereof proudly presented. If the Russian government needs some public pretext to go back into Syria it now has it. Also today the Islamic State threatened to attack Russia within its border. Another good reason to return to Syria in force. Of note is that Russia is already extremely pissed over the unreasonable hostile climate towards it in Washington DC. It will have consequences.
The Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei today acknowledged that the nuclear agreement with the U.S. is a failure. The U.S. did not deliver on its end. Iranian money is still blocked in U.S. controlled accounts and no international bank wants to do business with Iran because the U.S. is threatening to penalize them. The conclusion, Khamenei says, is that no deal with U.S. over any local issue in the Middle East is possible and that all negotiations with it are a waste of time. This new public position may finally free the limits the Rouhani government of Iran had put on Iranian deployments to Syria. Why bother with any self-limitation if the U.S. wont honor it?
How the situation in Syria will develop from here on depends to a large part on Turkey. Turkey is changing its foreign policy and turning towards Russia, Iran and China. But how far that turn away from the "west" will go and if it will also include a complete turnaround on Syria is not yet clear. Should Turkey really block its borders and all supplies to the Jihadis, the war on Syria could be over within a year or two. Should (secret) supplies continue, the war may continue for many more years. In both cases more allied troops and support for the Syrian government would significantly cut the time (and damage) the war will still take. That alone would be well worth additional efforts by Syria's allies.
Will Tehran and Moscow agree with that conclusion?
[The writer is a blogger with extensive military experience who closely follows military developments in Syria]
Kerry's And Al-Qaeda's "Very Different Track" Attack On Aleppo Fails
Moon of Alabama blog, 4 August 2016
Early in May U.S. Secretary of State Kerry set a deadline for "voluntary" regime change in Syria:
[He] said “the target date for the transition is 1st of August” in Syria or else the Assad government and its allies “are asking for a very different track.” Hoping that “something happens in these next few months,” he said the political transition would not include President Assad because “as long as Assad is there, the opposition is not going to stop fighting.” … Kerry made those remarks after meeting with the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. They agreed to establish a monitoring ceasefire center in Geneva, Switzerland, …
By the time of that statement al-Qaeda in Syria and U.S. supported insurgents had already broken the February ceasefire announced by Russia and attacked Syrian government positions in the rural area south of Aleppo city.
Negotiations since May between Russia and the U.S. over Syria have not led to any tangible results. In retrospect the U.S. tactic seems to have been willful delay. The U.S. made some laughable offer to Russia and Syria to effectively accept defeat in exchange for common attacks on al-Qaeda. This was rejected without much comment.
The current attack on the government held Aleppo by al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al Nusra aka Fateh al Sham) was launched on August 1st. With up to 10,000 insurgents participating the attack was unprecedented in size. August 1st is exactly the same date Kerry had set as starting date for "a very different track". This is likely not a random coincidence.
Despite the very large size of the "Great Battle of Aleppo" and its possibly decisive character for the war neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has so far reported on it.
The U.S. had long prepared for an escalation and extension of the war on Syria. In December and January ships under U.S. control transported at least 3,000 tons of old weapons and ammunition from Bulgaria to Turkey and Jordan. These came atop of hundreds of tons of weapons from Montenegro transported via air to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. According to the renown Janes Defense military intelligence journal these Bulgarian weapons ended up in Syria where the Syrian army confiscated some of them from al-Qaeda and U.S. supported insurgents.
During the ceasefire and negotiations with Russia, the U.S. and its allies continued to arm and support their proxies in Syria even as those were intimately coordinating and integrating with al-Qaeda. The U.S. does not consider these groups to be terrorists, no matter with whom they associate or whatever they do. Even when such a group beheads a 12 year old, sick child in front of running cameras the U.S. State Department continues to support them and opines that "one incident here and there would not necessarily make you a terrorist group."
Good to know …
The Russian Defense Ministry warned since April that large amounts of weapons and men were crossing from Turkey to Syria:
The Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) in Syria is planning a major offensive with the aim to cut the road between Aleppo and Damascus, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Sergey Rudskoy, has said. … "According to the information we have, about 8,000 Jabhat al-Nusra militants have concentrated to the southwest of Aleppo; up to 1,500 militants have gathered to the north of the city," Rudskoi said.
A Jabhat al-Nusra spokesperson claimed that the attack on Aleppo was planned for "several months". The U.S.-Saudi weapon supplies at the beginning of the year and the Russian observed deployment of forces in April were likely in preparation of the current attack on Aleppo. Kerry's "very different track" remark fits right into these. But the large "very different track" attack failed.
The attack started on Sunday and by Monday the 2nd the insurgents (green areas [see map in link above]) managed to break Syrian government (red) defenses at the south-western border of Aleppo city. The plan was to break through roughly along the black line. Several vehicle based suicide attacks breached the Syrian front line. The insurgents captured the large, unfinished apartment project 1070 and several hilltop positions. On Tuesday phase 2 launched when they attempted to take the Artillery Academy base a few hundred meters further east. But after intense Syrian and Russian air strikes and nightly counterattacks nearly all positions fell back into Syrian government hands. Despite the failure of their main thrust, al-Qaeda and its allies launched a third phase attack towards Ramouseh district a few hundred meters further north. A tactical mistake as the attackers failed to build a decisive Schwerpunkt. A tunnel deployed bomb destroyed parts of the Syrian army positions in Ramouseh but the defense line held. The attack was repelled. Additional break-out attacks by the 2-3,000 fighters inside the besieged al-Qaeda controlled areas in east-Aleppo city failed too. Al-Qaeda never managed to break the siege of the eastern areas and to thereby cut off the government held, densely occupied western areas from their supply route south towards Damascus.
Local fighting still continues on the front lines but the government positions seem secured and the attacking force is slowly getting ground down.
Al-Qaeda and allies had to deliver their attack from rural Idleb and Aleppo over open terrain towards the western Aleppo city borders. Here is where the Russian airforce and long range artillery concentrated their fire. As usual in such situations more attackers were killed on the approaches to the front line and in forward supply areas than on the front line itself. A Russian cruise missile even destroyed (vid) an arms supply storage used by Jaish al-Islam, the al-Qaeda controlled insurgency alliance, in Bab al Hawa, Idleb, at the Turkish border. Several arms convoys on their way towards Aleppo were destroyed in other airstrikes.
Both sides currently accuse each other of minor gas attacks against each other civilians. The insurgents started these as they always do when they lose ground. This time the Syrian and Russian side immediately responded with their own claims. It is now he-said she-said – who can decide? These attacks or reports seem to be more diversions than serious incidents.
After the defeat of the third phase of their attack al-Qaeda and its allies broke off their original plan of an attack in six phases and pulled back. In Russian military doctrine such a situation demands a counterattack with a wide ranging, strategic pursuit of the retreating enemy. We may now see a lightning fast operation in which reserve troops held by the Syrian government proceed westwards and northwards from Aleppo under intense air cover.
There are no current plans on the government side to capture the insurgent areas in east-Aleppo which are under government siege. These can wait and their condition deteriorate before any costly move against them follows.
Reports of additional Russian attack planes arriving for the next phase of the conflict have not yet been confirmed.
All together Kerry's "very different track" failed to achieve the desired aim. The government held Aleppo city was not cut off from the rest of the government held areas south of it. The attacking force, the largest insurgent concentration in this war, suffers up to 1,000 casualties and a large amount of its equipment was destroyed. A pursuit might shatter its remnants.
In another Syrian trouble spot Kurdish YPG fighters besiege and slowly conquer the Islamic State held city of Manbij in the east. They are supported by U.S. special forces and intense coalition air attacks. The city of Manbij is now mostly destroyed. The once 100,000 inhabitants are in dire straits. Up to 200 civilians fleeing the city were killed in U.S. air attacks. But as the operation is U.S. led no "western" humanitarian organization has lamented their fate.
The Case for (Finally) Bombing Assad
DENNIS B. ROSS and ANDREW J. TABLER, NY Times Op-Ed, August 3, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration wants to reduce the violence and suffering in Syria and, at the same time, quash jihadist groups there. This is why the White House is now pushing a plan for the United States to cooperate with the Russian military in Syria, sharing intelligence and coordinating airstrikes against the Islamic State and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. In return, Russia would force the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using barrel bombs and air attacks in areas in which neither extremist group is present.
Wiping out terrorist groups in Syria is an important goal and, after years of death and destruction, any agreement among the country’s warring parties or their patrons may seem welcome. But the Obama administration’s plan, opposed by many within the C.I.A., the State Department and the Pentagon, is flawed. Not only would it cement the Assad government’s siege of the opposition-held city Aleppo, it would push terrorist groups and refugees into neighboring Turkey. Instead, the United States must use this opportunity to take a harder line against Mr. Assad and his allies.
Secretary of State John Kerry hopes that this understanding with Russia will help lead to progress on other issues, including restoring the “cessation of hostilities,” a partial truce that began in February and broke down in May, and returning to negotiations on a political transition. These are reasonable goals, which are also embodied in a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted last December.
But a leaked text of the proposed agreement with Russia shows that it is riddled with dangerous loopholes. American and Russian representatives are now delineating areas where the Nusra Front is “concentrated” or “significant” and areas where other opposition groups dominate but “some possible Nusra presence” exists. This will still allow Mr. Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers to attack the non-Nusra opposition in those areas, as well as solidify the Syrian government’s hold on power.
More worrying is that the Assad government lacks the manpower to hold rural Sunni areas and so will rely on Hezbollah and other Shiite militias to do so. These brutal sectarian groups will most likely force the Nusra Front and other Sunni rebels to decamp to Turkey, bringing them, and the threat of militant violence, closer to the West. The fighting will similarly displace Sunni civilians, leading more of them to try to make their way to Europe.
The administration’s initiative with Russia is driven by either hope or desperation, but surely not by experience. During the partial truce, Russia took advantage of similar loopholes that permitted it and the Assad government to keep fighting the non-Nusra and non-Islamic State opposition. Such violations have allowed Mr. Assad and his allies to gain territory and besiege Aleppo.
The Obama administration appears to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin is looking for a way to limit Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. We doubt it. Mr. Putin is more interested in demonstrating that Russia and its friends are winning in Syria and the United States is losing. He will not alter his approach unless he becomes convinced that it has grown too expensive. Instead, because Mr. Putin knows the United States will not take action to punish Russia for its support for the Assad government, he and Mr. Assad will probably treat the emerging agreement no differently from the previous ones.
There is an alternative: Punish the Syrian government for violating the truce by using drones and cruise missiles to hit the Syrian military’s airfields, bases and artillery positions where no Russian troops are present.
Opponents of these kinds of limited strikes say they would prompt Russia to escalate the conflict and suck the United States deeper into Syria. But these strikes would be conducted only if the Assad government was found to be violating the very truce that Russia says it is committed to. Notifying Russia that this will be the response could deter such violations of the truce and the proposed military agreement with Moscow. In any case, it would signal to Mr. Putin that his Syrian ally would pay a price if it did not maintain its side of the deal.
If Russia does want to limit its involvement in Syria, the threat of limited strikes should persuade it to make Mr. Assad behave. Conversely, if the skeptics are right that Mr. Putin will get serious about a political solution only if he sees the costs of backing Syria’s government increasing, the threat of such strikes is probably the only way to start a political process to end the war.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have long said there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. Unfortunately, Russia and Iran seem to think there is — or at least that no acceptable political outcome is possible without diminishing the rebels and strengthening the Syrian government. It is time for the United States to speak the language that Mr. Assad and Mr. Putin understand.
Dennis B. Ross, a former senior Middle East adviser to President Obama, and Andrew J. Tabler, the author, most recently, of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria,” are fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy [WINEP is a leading US neo-con think tank].