Showdown in Aleppo

By Patrick BAHZAD


It has been several days since the start of the joint Syrian-Russian offensive on Aleppo and here we are again, contemplating an already familiar level of urban devastation and human suffering, wondering which turn events are now going to take in the city that epitomizes what the Syrian civil war stands for. Now obviously, there is no doubt as to the horrendous level of destruction Aleppo has suffered, at the hands of the various actors involved, but such is the fate of cities entangled in prolonged urban combat. The public outrage at the tactics employed by the SAA and its Russian backers can only be attributed to lack of understanding of the mechanics of war in such theatres of operation, combined with a healthy amount of selective memory loss. History is awash with examples of "siege" stories, sectarian strife and civil war destroying the fabric and the people of great cities. However, what is currently unfolding in Aleppo – beyond a level of violence hard to comprehend for most Westerners – is anything but a surprise. SST readers in particular will remember a number of articles published here in the past months that underlined the high probability of what is happening. But unlike six months ago, several geopolitical and military factors have substantially changed the equation and the latest round of fighting looks nothing short of a showdown for Aleppo, possibly for Syria altogether.

A word of advice however before diving into the subject: you better stop counting the stories, editorials and other pieces that our newspapers and TV networks are publishing or airing about Aleppo. Some of this journalism could be regarded as honest reporting not taking into account the contingencies of fighting an enemy embedded with the civilian population in a large urban area. But most it is tainted by a level of hypocrisy that defies the whole purpose of such pieces. What is the empathy for Aleppo worth, when you are not even willing to mention Saudi airstrikes over Yemen in a similar fashion ?

Besides, it may be dangerous to cry "war crimes" and "atrocities" at this point in time, when the US lead Coalition in Iraq is about to launch a major offensive against the so called Islamic State and its capital. The Jihadis in the Middle-East and other places will make sure to remind us of the strong wording used for Aleppo once the onslaught on Mosul will have started. And they will definitely try to point to the bias and double standard of Western media outlets if we do not display the same sense of outrage at the casualties that the offensive on Mosul might cause among the civilians there. Don't throw with stones when you live in a glass house …

Anyway, we shall see how the Coalition handles that siege. Hopefully it will not turn into a slaughterhouse like Aleppo, but in truth, it will be impossible to avoid a "minimal" level of collateral damage, unless you change the ROEs in such a way that a ground offensive will be utterly useless, which brings us back to the current topic. Looking at Aleppo and how things developed into the current situation calls for several factors to be mentioned.

The Moderates … and not so Moderates in Eastern Aleppo

One of the reasons explaining the failure of the latest US-Russian ceasefire agreement is the refusal by what is left of moderate rebels inside Aleppo to break-up with the more radical groups, first and foremost "Jabhat al-Nusra", or whatever other name they like to be called these days. The two major groups that controlled the Eastern neighbourhoods, namely the "Nour al-Din al-Zenki" movement and the "Suqour al-Sham" Brigade, actually joined the Al Qaeda Jihadis and left them in charge of the operational command inside the city.

The fact that this plays right into the hands of the Assad regime and its Russian allies is secondary in the short term, although it provides Putin, Lavrov and Co with enough ammunition to show the world that the so-called "moderates" supported by the US are actually infiltrated or even openly cooperating with Al Qaeda. A number of recent reports about the disastrous relationships between American SFGs and their local trainees bear testimony to this ancient problem.

As for Aleppo, it was definitely not helpful that Nusra moved hundreds of its fighters into the city at a time when the Northern LOC into the city was being cut off by the R+6, and moderates were deserting the city, in anticipation of an onslaught that did not come at that point. Probably, the Turkish handlers of "Zenki" and " Suqour al-Sham" also wanted to call back their local assets through the Western Bab al-Hawa border crossing and send them into their Northern buffer zone, through Bab al-Salameh this time, in order to prevent any attempt by the Kurds to achieve territorial junction between their Afrin enclave and the rest of "Rojava".

What these movements of fighters did to the rebellion inside Aleppo is pretty simple: the moderate leftovers were weakened further, both in numbers and influence, while Nusra took over command and control of the Eastern parts of the city, making good use of the 200 000 civilians living in the area to avoid turning into an easy target for the Syrian or Russian air force. 

Breaking the siege, temporarily

To the credit of Nusra, it has to be said that the offensive they organized in order the break the so-called "siege" a few weeks ago would probably never have succeeded were it not for their expertise and determination. Following a string of SVBIED attacks in the South-East of government controlled areas, near the Artillery college, a massive ground offensive took place that finally managed to get a few dozen fighters all the way through to the encircled rebel areas in the East.

While this operation did probably a lot to enhance Nusra's prestige and standing among the rebels, it was nothing short of a scam, probably bordering on the military disaster, such was the loss of resources and manpower incurred by the rebels. Ignorant media outlets all over the world praised the rebels' victory for days and days, not realizing the only thing they managed to get through were a couple of rusty trucks carrying a few vegetables boxes. In truth though, the offensive cost the rebels hundreds of casualties and the ground they conquered was always covered by fire, whether from SAA artillery or Syrian and Russian fighter jets.

Two weeks later, the "hole" Nusra had punched through R+6 lines had been plugged again, only this time, the situation of the rebels was more dire than ever before. They had played their trump card when they staged their surprise offensive, but they had failed to achieve a game changer. They had not even managed to turn their progress into a stalemate. Time had come for the US to step in, once again, in an attempt that Obamanites would describe as "a negotiated settlement to the crisis". That is certainly one way of looking at what took place during the discussions between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. Cynics however could argue that the entire process undertaken by the US administration, in particular the State Department, was to stall for time, in the hope the rebels in Northern Syria might either accept the terms they were offered or be given enough time to regroup and start all over.

Negotiating as a way to stall for time … or avoid defeat

Probably all too aware of the seriousness of the situation, Secretary of State John Kerry candidly described what was in store for Aleppo should negotiations fail at that point: "What's the alternative? The alternative is to allow us to go from 450,000 people who've been slaughtered to how many thousands more? That Aleppo gets completely overrun? That the Russians and Assad simply bomb indiscriminately for days to come, and we sit there and do nothing? That's the alternative to trying to get this done, if America is not going to go in with their troops — and America's made the decision we're not going in with our troops. And the president's made that decision".

Kerry said this two weeks ago and for all the belligerent and irresponsible bullshit being uttered lately by the State Department's spokesman, he is right. There is no alternative to the US coming to terms with Russia and Assad over Syria, unless they are willing to go to war with Syria – and Russia – as was very eloquently explained by the current CJCS, General Dunford, to a quite stunned Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22nd.

Today, it is clear to everyone that the ceasefire agreement negotiated by the US and Russia is dead and buried. Contrary to popular belief, which seems to blame exclusively the Russians for that failure, this is good news for any actor in favor of a military solution to the conflict. In Riyadh in particular, they are probably celebrating – behind closed doors – at the news of another US foreign policy fiasco.

Perfidious KSA

Let's not forget that the Saudis were the last regional actor to approve the ceasefire, way after the Turks, which perfectly illustrates how much they opposed Kerry's renewed diplomatic offensive. Lots is being said about the Russians' disregard for the rules of international diplomacy, but if you are looking for one regional power that is genuinely reckless in its policies and has nothing but contempt for any loss of life outside its borders, no need to look further than Saudi-Arabia.

The politicians in Riyadh want Assad removed by any means necessary, make no mistake. In traditional Saudi fashion, they are willing to put in lots of money into such an enterprise, an endeavor that actually translates into pouring oil onto the Syrian fire … To the Saudis, the latest attempt at a ceasefire – brokered by alien powers, i.e. the US and Russia – is totally unacceptable. They were and still are willing to fight to the last Syrian in order to get what they desire so much: a Syrian State that will be an empty shell, something resembling Libya maybe, with anybody basically fighting anybody else, just to make sure their Iranian foes lose a major ally in the region.

Fact is the Kerry–Lavrov ceasefire would have kept Assad in power, at least for a transitional period. In other words, the ceasefire was a big "no, no" for the Saudis. That many Syrian women and children might die as a consequence of the Saudis' "all in" attitude does not bother anybody in Riyadh. After all, the Saudis' open disregard for human life in Yemen is proof enough of the Kingdom's general outlook on international law.

Riyadh's objectives in Syria are clear and unchanged. They want Assad gone and they will do whatver it takes to try and drag the US into doing their military bidding on the ground. People in D.C. better be aware: Riyadh still has a few tricks up its sleeves and just as they don't care about Syrian civilians, they won't care much more about US servicemen being killed in a new Syrian adventure. That is the Saudi way. It has been their trademark for decades and it is not about to change anytime soon.

The Siege of Eastern Aleppo

Reality on the ground, on the streets of Aleppo, is obviously light years away from such considerations, yet it is the result of the balance of military and diplomatic power that keeps shifting one way or the other in this five year old conflict. Currently, following the much vaunted yet failed rebel offensive of August and September, we are looking at a potential game changer unfolding. All this could have happened in February or March of 2016 already, but a combination of factors – from Turkey's "cold war" with Russia to the climatic conditions in the Middle-Eastern spring – prevented such an outcome. This has now changed.

For one thing, Sultan Erdogan seems to have come to terms with Tsar Putin. We do not know the exact nature of the agreement Turkey and Russia have reached, but it is pretty safe to assume that the Turks have accepted to stop, or at least significantly reduce their support to the rebel groups in Northern Syria in exchange for a normalization of their relations with Moscow and a Russian "laisser faire" when it comes to the Turkish army's dealings with Kurdish separatism. Add into the mix the upcoming US Presidential elections and you'll get a totally different background. The Assad regime and the Russian military probably consider they now have a 5-6 months long window to achieve their ideal end state situation.

As far as Aleppo is concerned, this means basically obliterating the rebellion, or push them into the arms of Nusra and other Jihadi groups, thus turning them into an unacceptable actor for the US and its allies. From the regime point of view, the main issue is to convince the civilians of Eastern Aleppo to "leave" their neighborhoods. Now the means used to achieve such a goal are not very elegant, but when you are fighting in an urban area, there are not that many options open to you from a military perspective. You can either fight with civilians present, and incur civilian casualties on a level Aleppo has not witnessed yet, or you can do whatever it takes to push civilians into leaving.

For the rebels of course, the equation is the opposite. They need to keep as many woman and children in the areas they control, so as to avoid large scale airstrikes and artillery shellings, or exploit the civilian casualties in nicely organized PR-campaigns. One side will argue about civilians being deliberately targeted by the regime, while the other will accuse the rebels of hiding behind "human shields". Such is the nature of urban combat. It is one of the most deadly and horrendous forms of warfare, but it is not an unwinnable one, that is something a number of commentators in the West seem to have forgotten when they talk about Aleppo.

US options ?

No need to look further than the NYT to have an idea of the abysmal level of ignorance when it comes to such military matters. Max Fisher's piece of September 28th, "Russia's Brutal Bombing of Aleppo May be Calculated", is a perfect example. A blatant disregard for the facts on the ground, a deep rooted misunderstanding of the balance of power in the Middle-East in general, and Syria in particular, and a gross misrepresentation of Russian tactics … So much for unbiased reporting !

True, the R+6 are trying to drive civilians out of key areas of Eastern Aleppo. Who wouldn't ? Rebels control an area that is home to somewhere between 150 000 and 200 000 people. Government controlled Western Aleppo on the other hand has around 1 000 000 inhabitants, a fact that is also often forgotten by those clamoring about Assad's "siege of Aleppo". Nonetheless, trying to take hold of an urban environment with 200 000 noncombatants present is a tricky business for any armed force, as we shall probably see when the time comes to take back Mosul.

In all likelihood, the SAA and its allies will carry on their current offensive until they are satisfied that their local foes won't be able to prevent an exodus of civilians from the key areas that need to be controlled in order to take over all of Aleppo. At that point, they will offer some sort of truce, opening up "humanitarian corridors", so that civilians who may want to do so can leave the city. Anybody not taking up the R+6 on their offer will probably have to accept the consequences …

Cities as the ultimate (winnable) battlefield

You may argue this is unethical and bordering on "war crimes". Maybe so, maybe not. Hard to prove in any case. The truth of the matter is, it makes no difference in the end. Cities are battlefields with rules of their own. They are definitely NOT unwinnable, as recently underlined by a well documented French book on the subject ("L'ultime champ de bataille – Combattre et vaincre en ville").

For the R+6, the outlook is pretty good. The US are hamstrung by their Presidential election. The Saudis and other Gulfies are willing yet unable to provide the rebels with the necessary hardware to resist much longer, if Turkey sticks to its deal with Russia. In the South, Damascus has had the upper hand for quite a while, courtesy of a Russian brokered deal with Jordan. In the East, the Iraqi government has also reached a "modus vivendi" with Assad and Putin some time ago. What is left to gain access to the Syrian meat grinder does not amount to much: a few areas in lawless Northern Lebanon, no more. In this context, and however brutal the R+6 offensive on Eastern Aleppo may look like, it certainly provides Assad and its allies with the best opportunity in months, maybe years, to strike a devastating and possibly decisive blow in this war.

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108 Responses to Showdown in Aleppo

  1. Chris Chuba says:

    It is good to here from you Patrick BAHZAD. I am going to confine my comments to the media hypocrisy.
    1. In similar situations we used to routinely hear them refer to the use of human shields when the Israelis conducted military operations but this term has vanished in today’s coverage. They have simply ignored all reports regarding R+6’s efforts to establish corridors to allow civilians to leave eastern Aleppo and Al Nusra 2.0’s prevention of this by shooting of those who have attempted to do so. This was reported on Apparently, U.S. media exclusively gets its news sourced basically from the U.S. State Dept and its proxies.
    2. There already was a very long month long sieges of Manbij, Ramadi, and Fallujah. I am certain that the dynamics of all of these sieges involved similar suffering of the civilian population but the news coverage was extremely favorable to the first two and mixed on the last one. In other words, the coverage reflected our political alignment with who was doing the attacking rather than the facts on the ground. Since Fallujah involved the use of Shiite militias there was a little apprehension there even though much of Ramadi was destroyed.
    3. The media failed to ask the most obvious question, since the ceasefire involved an agreement for joint strikes against Al Qaeda groups why were we not bombing them before? Had they explored this question the whole composition of the rebels and our goals in Syria could have been explored but they instead chose to focus on the emotive stories. The lack of curiosity by U.S. media encourages the worst elements of our govt to be even more brazen and unaccountable for their actions.

  2. Haralambos says:

    Thank you, Mr. BAHZAD, for this wake-up call to what the US MSM obfuscates and misrepresents. I keep trying to alert my friends and relatives to these issues, but they remain focused on “making ends meet.”

  3. Clausewitz' dumb son says:

    M. Bahzad,
    1. I wonder if you could comment briefly on similarities and differences concerning underlying situation and tactics as between Eastern Aleppo (today), and Grozny (1999-2000) and Fallujah (2004)?
    2. I wonder if you could comment on the use of earth-penetrating ordnance by the Ru Air Force in Eastern Aleppo. Could you assess the degree to which they might or might not have actionable intelligence as to where legitimate underground targets might be located?
    Merci bien.

  4. VietnamVet says:

    What the West is doing in the Middle East is at the bidding of Saudi Arabia and Israel to the detriment of its citizens. The intent is to permanently sever the Shiite Crescent and continue the fighting as long as possible, no matter the suffering or the risk of escalation into a Great War.
    Russia must feel it necessary to seize East Aleppo now rather than wait months to starve the rebels and their families out, like at Homs. This has to be an indication that they believe the next administration will be even more aggressive than the current one which has been at war for its entire 8 years.
    All that I can do is vote for a 3rd party presidential candidate. But, you and Colonel Lang are indispensable. You let us know the truth.

  5. Brunswick says:

    Reports from the few “Western” reporters who have been to East Aleppo, put the population level at 40,000-80,000.
    Before the Civil War, the population of East Aleppo was roughly 250,000.
    As we saw in the truce and evacuation of Darra, the jihadi claims over the years of both numbers of fighters and numbers of “trapped” civilians was greatly exaggerated. 300 jihadi fighters and 700 family members were evacuated, while roughly 9,000 civilians remained, a far cry from their claims of 5000 fighters and 30,000 trapped civilians.
    >>Whole neighbourhoods have been levelled by enormous explosions that have systematically targeted main roads around the city and all exits out of it, as well as marketplaces, hospitals, bread lines and fuel queues.
    Those who remain in eastern Aleppo, roughly 40,000 from a prewar population estimated at about a million, have been without electricity or running water.<<

  6. Boston Bob says:

    This evening, in Saturday Vigil Mass, all of my prayers went to R+6. God bless and protect them.

  7. Bill Herschel says:

    I just read the Wikipedia account of the Battle of Grozny in the second Chechen war ( which, in its entirety, lasted 6 years. I would say that Russia views Aleppo as a modern Grozny and will fight until they win whatever the cost in human life or public opinion. The only thing that could change that would be a sustained and massive attack against Russian troops by a superior force. Would American public opinion and members of Congress support that?

  8. Bobo says:

    Thank you Patrick as you have given some clarity to the deep morass of Syria.
    With ex Admiral Kirby sounding off about body bags heading to Russia and other sordid nothing’s a Russian General is now claiming the good old USA is the main backer of Terrorists. Hopefully Kirby can calm down next week or the Russians will commence info ads on TV telling the Americans what Obama is really doing in Syria. Now that Aleppo is under siege I assume there are no more Moderate Rebels. In my younger days when I was losing I just picked up my marbles and went home and sat it out. That is my advice to Obama. It is going to get worse in Syria and the Punch-Counter Punch with the Russians could get out of hand.

  9. Jack says:

    Nice to see you’re back with a beautiful rendition of reality in the Syrian meatgrinder thanks to the stratagery of the Borg Queen. The chaos and anarchy in Iraq, Libya and Syria and the destabilization of Ukraine are all an outcome of hubristic US foreign policy. After the Soviet Union disintegrated the US and it’s western European allies were bereft of any anchor. They truly believed their hegemonic status was unassailable.
    Now of course things never pan out exactly as anticipated. Since you know France, why did Sarkozy and Hollande have the same interventionist attitude? At least during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the French and even Schroeder warned about the consequences. Dubya and the neocons were so drunk with the belief that they strode the world as emperor that they did not care what others thought. What do you think changed with French elite attitudes?
    Here in the US with the election it couldn’t be more stark. Those who abhorred Dubya and his war on false pretenses are now supporting the Borg Queen who epitomizes an even more insidious mindset. This is so obvious to me when every ziocon has endorsed her. And IMO, a significant foreign policy shift was laid on the table by Trump – no first strike and the US not being the worlds policeman. The silence to this in the MSM and social media goes to show the Borgist precepts dominate and the utter hypocrisy of the anti-war left who no longer have any credibility,

  10. FB Ali says:

    An excellent piece, Patrick. It is especially welcome because of the dearth of any sensible, unbiased reporting (much less analysis) of this battle in the Western media.
    You’ve come back with a bang! Welcome back! Hope we’ll hear more often from you. You add greatly to the value and stature of this blog.

  11. mike allen says:

    PB –
    Good insight, thanks!
    Meanwhile while the American media is crying over Aleppo, they are ignoring the devastation of Cizre and other Kurdish cities in Turkey; plus the murder of Kurdish civilians by Turkish proxies in northern Aleppo province.

  12. Abu Sinan says:

    I have to second the comments already made. Nice to see you back with this well written and timely piece.

  13. Lemur says:

    Great analysis.
    As the loyalist forces crush insurgent Aleppo, the media, NGOs, and govt propaganda departments will go postal. The Borg wants Aleppo so so bad, and it has to watch helpless as Russia takes it away.
    The Saker discusses the Coalition’s lack of options here:
    I don’t think Obama will risk a clash with Russian Forces in Syria (that legacy), but we may see an asymmetric attempt to distract Russia by reigniting the Ukraine situation.
    I would also not be surprised if Chinese Warships show up in Syrian waters again as tensions increase like in 2013, and as a quid pro quo for the recent Sino-Russian exercises in the South China Sea.
    Assuming Aleppo falls, is it reasonable to expect subsequently the complete capture of Idlib as a matter of military inevitability?

  14. Lemur says:

    good article i recently read here comparing Fallujah with Aleppo:

  15. ToivoS says:

    The second Chechen War involved two phases. The first was defined positional warfare and was fought in the cities and towns. Much like the battle for Aleppo is shaping up. This took less than a year. In the second phase the rebels abandoned defined positions and took up guerilla tactics and that lasted another five years.
    During the first phase the Russians took a beating in the PR department with the world’s media criticizing them for extreme brutality. This is what the Russians have to look forward to if the R+6 forces conquer East Aleppo. That is a price they seem willing to pay. They are going to lose a lot of international sympathy though and it will make diplomacy more difficult in the future. I suspect there will repercussions concerning any deals over Ukraine. It will certainly embolden a Hillary admin to increase military aid (at least) to the Poroshenko regime.
    Let us hope that the East Aleppo battle is over in a few months since, if not, Hillary could easily do something really stupid in Syria.

  16. Good points, to which you can add the following:
    1. most US and Western medias report about Syria from safe places in Turkey, KSA, or Lebanon. Not many people on the ground anymore, they get some of the video reports directly from “militant” reporters embedded with whatever group is controlling the area they report about.
    2. There have been a number of sieges or siege like situations in the wars of the ME over the past 15 years, the ones you mention being the most recent ones of course. I’m pretty sure the level of destruction lately seen in Fallujah and Ramadi is much worse than anything currently happening in Aleppo. Many of the civilians in the Eastern part the city are family members of the fighters opposing R+6, that is also a reason why they are not leaving. By their presence alone, they have a deterring effect on any attacker employing more firepower to level those areas to the ground, in the way the ISF did in Ramadi. Double standards have been the rule for very long, I don’t expect this to change anytime soon.
    3. The Syrian rebel scene is such a madhouse it is very difficult to tell one group from the other. Personal and structural links make it almost impossible to tell who is AQ and who isn’t. R+6 strategy also aims at pushing what is left of the “moderates” (i.e. US supported groups) towards Nusra, in order to be in a position to target them all. Makes sense …

  17. There are conflicting reports about number of civilians in East Aleppo. You also have to factor in the refugees from Aleppo countryside who came in to take up shelter in the Eastern parts. The most consensual estimate is 150 000 inhabitants, but 80 000 is perfectly plausible as well. Your low figure however seems a bit of an underestimation to me. But who knows ?

  18. Im afraid part of the French elites are no better than the R2P, neo-wilsonian crowd in D.C. There is also a strong Neo-con influence among senior staff in the French ministry for foreign affairs. And we have our one kind of “Anne-Marie Slaughter” too. Overall, it’s anything but brilliant …

  19. Thank you FB Ali,
    I’ll do my best to keep up with events and update SST readers with a decent analysis. Will definitely post more regularly again !

  20. Trinlae says:

    “Aggressive” and/or uneducated, reactionary, incompetent, leaderless (until KSA+TelAviv “power vectors” are counted), chaotic, etc.

  21. Trinlae says:

    RT Tv in a south Asian Oct 01 broadcast had a short interview with an ex-CIA guy (admin or communications if i recall) who bombastically touted a Trump/GoP scenario of NATO coalition for direct regime change in Syria. However, I cannot find a copy of it anywhere on or youtube. He sounded like he was trying to push a string but does anyone know of any substantial diversity in party (or borg faction) policy positions (aside from any relevant statements the prez contenders)?

  22. I very much hope you do. You have been missed,

  23. Thank you David. Unfortunately, I had some personal business to attend to. Now done, so back on SST and not planning on leaving !

  24. Nuff Sed says:

    Whether it’s 40, 80, or 150 thousand, another question is what portion of this hard core are supporters of these takfiris rats. My guess is that most of what is left consists of their support base.

  25. Haralambos says:

    Mr Bahzad: A kudos is in order: this is up on Naked Capitalism:
    Showdown in Aleppo Sic Semper Tyrannis (Re Silc).

  26. Peter Reichard says:

    Excellent analysis as always. My heart goes out to the people of Aleppo as armies fighting for cities have historically caused the worst civilian casualties. Warsaw, Stalingrad and Manila come to mind, yet a victory here would go a long way towards bringing the tragedy that is Syria to a far better conclusion than anything envisioned by Washington. A significant percentage of rebel fighters are trapped and their elimination will tip the balance of forces in favor of the SAA and free up troops to mop up rebel pockets of resistance elsewhere. Afterward a million refugees will return to rebuild the city. This is the decisive battle, but brutal as it may be it has to be gotten over quickly to present the new administration with a fait accompli to preclude a disastrous American intervention. In spite of the horror to come I have a sudden sense of optimism.

  27. Peter AU says:

    First phase of the second Chechen war was to separate traditional Chechen islamists from non traditional islamists.

  28. Kerim says:

    Good to read you again Patrick!
    For people in the arab world the Saudi arrogance and hubris doesn’t come as a surprise…
    Things are going to get seriously uglier before the dust settles

  29. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, Patrick. Pleased to see your name back up there. From your response to Chris Chuba above.
    video reports directly from “militant” reporters” embedded
    Self-embedded? US and German media lately seem to have chosen to reveal the source. Not sure if it makes much difference. If people notice. But even when they are on the ground as Frederick Pleitgen (CNN), they apparently rely on “the militants” specific media perspective. Necessarily? I recall the close to ‘imageless’ war of Bush, sen.. No embedded journalists available on the ‘right side/s’ in this conflict taking care of the correct focus? Obviously. Hard to get at the larger reality out of which Aleppo’s Media Center reports? Apart from the occasional journalistic glimpse …
    Random pick. I choose Pleitgen since Jürgen Todenhöfer reported today in a specific media circle on events in Aleppo. He recently visited Aleppo, traveling with Pleitgen. He had tried to get his “regime media license” too late and the only option left open to go witness was traveling with Pleitgen.
    Definitively Todenhöfer as Pleitgen might seems to ultimately opt for some type of diplomatic solution as the best option available to stop suffering on both sides. With Todenhöfer being one of the few surprisingly/refreshingly well informed over here, apart from a retired general that in a similar refreshing way stood out of the consensus circle a while ago. Although in a setting not focused on media representatives. He even supported Russia’s actions, imagine, against the reigning consensus. What was apparent in today’s media circle was that non of these “ME experts” (at least one was given that label), or media representatives had any idea of the military. … Just like me, but I’m trying to learn.
    But in Aleppo, many of the civilians in the Eastern part are family members of the fighters opposing R+6
    The ultimate “crux of the biscuit”? …
    What puzzles me most, is, how did we after all these years mentally move to ‘indirectly’ support Al Qaeda? Todenhöfer seemed to be the only person at the table aware of this paradox, including the cooperation of “the moderates” with their more experienced Islamist counterparts. … Everyone else from the media camp had nothing but the usual talking points to offer as far as I am concerned. While they seem to be aware of the ‘complexity of matters’ at hand. How would you respond to verbal escape roads in response to challenges to anti-Russian statements like this: we aren’t a cold war anymore. I am not so sure we aren’t in something lie CW 2.0.
    Larger Question: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein wasn’t a Islamist or Islamic rebel, he was an autocrat, a dictator, surely someone concerned with his personal power, a “Hitler” to some. … While the perpetrators of 9/11 surely were Islamists … what were his real crimes against the West (not Iran, not Kuwait) apart from his struggle with the Kurds? I only have a vague impression of his earlier involvement and supposed support of secular terrorists.

  30. Ghostship says:

    The Angry Arab stated a while back that he thought all the jihadi groups had been penetrated by Syrian government intelligence so they probably do have actionable intelligence.

  31. Vic says:

    Just some quick question concerning the dynamics of the urban battle in Aleppo.
    I have never seen the Syrian side conduct a classic penetration. Far from attacking on a narrow front to breakthrough rebel fixed defensive positions; they always seem to attack on a broad front (entire districts of the city). Why
    They shift the location of the attacks from one district to another over time, but they do not use a sequence of attacks to encircle defenders. Why?
    When they do breach the rebels fixed defensive positions, they do not “follow up”. Why, do they lack a reserve/second echelon force?
    Do the rebels used multiple fixed defensive lines in depth or do they employ local reserve units to block penetrations of the front line?
    Any other Syrian Urban warfare TTP (rebel or government) would be welcome to help understand what is going on, and why.

  32. visitor says:

    Smaller Gulf countries (Qatar, Kuwait, UAE) are also committed in a significant way in Syria — there were reports of those countries being major conduits for equipment and money to various rebel groups.
    a) Some are also involved in the other quagmires of Libya and Yemen (and facing tricky diplomatic situations, such as UAE and Egypt supporting opposing factions in Libya).
    b) They all are under similar budgetary constraints as Saudi Arabia because of depressed oil prices — their buffers to absorb the costs of wars are under strain.
    Will they get cold feet? What would be the impact of those countries “defecting” or scaling back their Syrian involvement?

  33. turcopolier says:

    Great piece of work. A quibble – I don’t think it is at all clear how many actual civilians are in East Aleppo. I think “b” said he thought there were something like 40K. Also it seems to me that to evacuate remaining civilians R+6 will first have to overrun the neighborhoods they are in since the jihadis are reported to have actively prevented the departure of people. An additional question for me is the actual level of US support in training and advising of the various groups. It is clear that USSF (GBs) are training and advising various Kurdish groups; Pesh Merga, YPG, etc. It is not clear to me whether or not there are US trainers and advisers with jihadi groups. pl

  34. Former 11B says:

    Nice summary, very much along the lines of how I see it. The only thing I would say on this is I expect the Russians to go big this time on any of the stupid and inevitable initial provocations. They need to insist that Syria be able to defend its sovereign borders. And every escalation needs to be crushed in a convincing manner. The Neocons might be willing to keep their heads up their fouth point of contact, but the serving military knows what time it is.. I don’t think getting maimed for the likes of Bill Kristol is high on their priority lists. And even Kerry admits without troops, there is no future for regime change.

  35. mike allen says:

    Colonel –
    In addition to the YPG and Pesh, there are some embedded Americans with the ‘Liwa al Mutasim’ Brigade in Syria. But Liwa al Mutasim can hardly be called a salafi jihadist group. The Nusra Front issued a fatwah against them. They have been reviled by the Turks and their proxies. The recent PR taunting of Americans and the Liwa al Mutasim Brigade by a jihadi group was choreographed by the Turk). And reportedly Liwa al-Mutasim had even been recruited by the Russians.
    Some in Liwa al-Mutasim have had some animosity about what they claimed as low levels of American support. And like many of those groups there may be some fundamentalists among them that are more comfortable with the doctrine of al Wahhab.

  36. robt willmann says:

    I had come across this article about the Russian experience in Grozny before, and it is still here, apparently from 2000–

  37. turcopolier says:

    mike allen
    Thanks for the liwa al-mutasim clarification. Interesting name. If memory serves al-mutasim was an Abbasid caliph. Having in mid our grammar exchange on idafas the name literally would mean “the brigade of al-mutasim.” There still exists a question as to whether or not CIA SAD staff or contracters are present in the field with jihadi groups. pl

  38. Pundita says:

    Strange story. Hope it’s nothing more than propaganda but I wonder if the US/NATO has provided justification for bombing those bridges. Is it possible NATO is just trying to prevent the Syrian army frm reaching Raqqa before they do? If so, of course that could be interpreted as helping Islamic State. But maybe there’s a valid tactical reason for the US coalition bombing all those bridges that isn’t evident from this report??
    “Source: US Bombing of Deir Ezzur Bridges Aimed at Stopping Syrian Army Advance”
    October 2
    TEHRAN (FNA)- The US pounded several strategic bridges in Deir Ezzur in the last few days to prevent the army and its allies’ further advances in the fight against the ISIL terrorists, a Syrian field source said.
    “The US aimed to extend the geographical area of its influence by bombing the strategic bridges in Deir Ezzur and stop the Syrian army’s advance in the war against the ISIL,” the source told FNA on Sunday.
    “Washington also sought to cut the supply routes between the provinces and separate Deir Ezzur’s countryside from the city of Deir Ezzur through the bombing,” the source added.
    “Destruction of Deir Ezzur bridges was also aimed at dividing the regions under the US and Russian influence in the Eastern and Western parts of the Euphrates,” the source said.
    The US-led coalition fighter jets once again conducted air raids over Deir Ezzur province on Friday, destroying two other key bridges over the Euphrates River, just three days after demolishing two other strategic bridges in similar airstrikes in the same region near the border with Iraq.
    According to reports, the Coalition’s airstrikes resulted in the destruction of al-Shihan Bridge near al-Salhin neighborhood in al-Bokamal countryside and Tarif Bridge in the Western countryside that extends between Deir Ezzur and Raqqa provinces.
    The US-led coalition warplanes had also destroyed al-Asharah Bridge that links the two banks of the river in the Eastern part of the Deir Ezzur province on Wednesday, only few hours after demolishing al-Mayadin Bridge.
    The bombers had also targeted the Syrian army troops near the city of Deir Ezzur on September 17, leaving over 90 military personnel dead and a hundred wounded.
    Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed a report by the Syrian state news agency that an ISIL offensive began right after Syrian Army positions were hit by the bombers of the US-led coalition.
    The actions of the coalition “clearly paved the way for ISIL terrorists to attack the position and take control of it,” the agency said citing the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces.
    The General Command called the bombing a “serious and blatant aggression” against Syrian forces, and said it was “conclusive evidence” that the US and its allies support ISIL terrorist group.
    A day later, a military source disclosed that the ISIL launched attacks on the Syrian army positions in Deir Ezzur only 7 minutes after the US-led coalition’s airstrikes.
    The military source reiterated that the air and ground assault were highly coordinated.
    A Syrian top official said the country’s intelligence unit possesses an audio recording of a conversation between the ISIL group and the US military before the airstrikes by the US-led coalition on the Syrian army troops near Deir Ezzur on September 17.
    The speaker of the People’s Council of Syria, Hadiya Khalaf Abbas, said that after the US coalition’s airstrikes on the government troops, US military directed terrorists’ attack on the Syrian army.

  39. mike allen says:

    Wasn’t he a son of the Harun al-Rashid? Buried somewhere in my library I have a history of the Abassid dynasty, I will have to dig it out and reread the chapter on al-Mutasim.

  40. Imagine says:

    The tsunami of refugees is causing severe pain to the fabric of Europe. This exacerbates the worldwide recession. It’s important to do accounting on the actual effects of what America has accomplished, in order to avoid doubling down.

  41. plantman says:

    Great analysis.
    I have a question that might be too speculative for this forum, but I’ll ask anyway since I think it might be on the minds of many who follow SST.
    What sort of escalation might the hawks at the Pentagon and the CIA have in mind?
    Certainly, they don’t want to implement a policy that leads to an outright conflagration with Russia. (Gen Dunford said a no-fly zone would lead to war)
    But there may be alternatives that go beyond mere support for agents on the ground. (“moderate” forces)
    I am not a military man, so I have no idea what these options might be, but I assume the hawks are looking for a strategy that will “bog down” Russia while keeping pressure on Assad.
    So my question is this: Is there a way to increase US military engagement in Syria (and satisfy the hawks) without triggering WW3?
    I assume Hillary’s war cabinet will pursue these options.

  42. Bandolero says:

    Pat, Patrick, Brunswick, all
    Regarding the number of civilians still present in rebel held East Aleppo:
    I’m off the opinion that all the popular estimates – whether 40k, 400k or the most widely accepted figures of something like 200k – are grossly inflating the number of civilians still present in rebel held East Aleppo. From what I see it looks more like being in the low single digit thousands, maybe even only hundreds.
    Let me explain how I came to this opinion. Wehn the Syrian army and their allies took over districts of rebel held Aleppo recently, I watched the videos and I couldn’t find civilians at all. There were no videos of civilians greeting the army as liberators, and there were no videos of civilians fleeing from the army. There was simply a moon like landscape, a desert of mostly broken stones void of any living beings. I remarked that in videos about the complete liberation of the districts of Bani Zaid, Camp Handarat, Shukaif and Farafira and progress in Amiriyah, Sheikh Saeed and Bustan Al Basha. Of course that could just mean that there are unpopulated areas while others are populated.
    But I also watched recent rebel videos from Aleppo, and always saw mostly empty background, rarely an onlooker if at all, at even those looked like men in fighting age or their relatives used as stage props. And then there were what was billed in advance as huge demonstrations against the siege, the ceasefire and against aid entering through Castello road. What I saw in videos from these “huge demonstrations” in rebel held East Aleppo were very few people and even less civilian people, woman and chidlren, maybe two hundred I estimate. That seemed to be all the rebels could bring on the street in East Aleppo, and I think, they brought anybody on the street for these “huge demonstrations” they could get their hands on, even if it would mean to bring the people on the street by gunpoint.
    So, my point is, to me it looks like most of the world will be very surprised when the Syrian army liberates East Aleppo and the army can’t find any civilians there. If there are no civilians left I would also say expect a much more rapid progress of the army in rebel held East Aleppo than as it would be with still lot’s of civilians in the way.

  43. Bill Herschel says:

    If there is anything good to say about French foreign policy, it is that they are, certainly their citizens are, reluctant to go to war with Russia.

  44. Bill Herschel says:

    Gosh, required reading. Thanks.

  45. Brad says:

    Had placed the same article on Southfront thread.
    1 complaint that FAB was excessive.
    The situation in Aleppo is similar to Chechnyu conflict.
    FAB were dropped on Iraqi troops during desert storm… with photos of survivors crying and carrying white flags.
    This was all good and high fives with US/CNN viewers.

  46. Anna says:

    “At least during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the French and even Schroeder warned about the consequences. Dubya and the neocons were so drunk with the belief that they strode the world as emperor that they did not care what others thought. What do you think changed with French elite attitudes?”
    Not much changes. The gargoyle-looking Sarkozy made France participate in the physical destruction of Libya. The flood of desperate refugees from the ruined Middle East countries and the swarm of migrants form sub-Saharan Africa (mostly males, aggressive and not-too-bright) should have given some sobering thoughts already to French citizenry. Would not it be nice to observe some harassment of the gargoyle?

  47. Valissa says:

    Jack & Patrick, thanks for addressing this topic. I was curious about that myself.
    Who needs authoritarianism when group think and the need for the approval of one’s fellow elites (so one is invited to the important conversations) will suffice. Everyone can pretend how democratic and freethinking they are. “Soft Imperialism” Davos style.
    Glad to have you back Patrick. Your knowledge and insights are valuable and much appreciated.

  48. Anna says:

    Thank you.

  49. Jonathan House says:

    Thank you. Welcome back. And thanks again.
    Do have this piece, or its equivalent, in French? I would like to send it to francophone friends but don’t have the ability to do the translation.
    Jonathan House

  50. Anna says:

    “…how did we after all these years mentally move to ‘indirectly’ support Al Qaeda?”
    Unfortunately the support is not just “mental” and it is not “indirect:”
    “…State Department spokesperson John Kirby expressed concerns that U.S.-backed Syrian opposition factions such as Ahrar al-Sham have been cohabitating with the Nusra Front. However, Washington has doggedly resisted calls to add the Al Qaeda collaborators to the UN terrorist list – claiming it would damage the ceasefire – which journalist Finian Cunningham sees as an “unwitting U.S. admission” about who is really leading the Syrian “rebellion.”

  51. Anna says:

    “Russians need to insist that Syria be able to defend its sovereign borders. … the serving military knows what time it is. I don’t think getting maimed for the likes of Bill Kristol is high on their priority lists.”
    At some point, the competent and patriotic brass must take over the reins.

  52. LeaNder says:

    sorry about the multitude of typos here and elsewhere. Admittedly written without a single look back:
    While they seem to be aware of the ‘complexity of matters’ [within limits] at hand.
    limits that don’t challenge ‘the meta-narratives’. Maybe???

  53. Vic,
    Urban operations are best characterized in U.S. doctrine as something to avoid if at all possible. That’s been true for decades and probably longer. Attacking urban terrain is manpower intensive, small areas can eat up large formations. But the battle itself belongs to the sergeants and lieutenants. And these battles are intense and exhausting. These small units require frequent rest and refitting. Grand maneuvers are difficult to execute. The battlefield is three dimensional with basements, tunnels and upper stories. Obviously, not all urban areas are this claustrophobic. Industrial outskirts are fairly wide open, conducive to the use of heavier weapons. But even here industrial structures can become nigh impregnable strongpoints.
    We are all aware of the R+6 manpower shortages. This makes the taking of Aleppo a difficult task. Attritting the defenders with airstrikes is the smartest move the R+6 can make. Goading the rebels into making counterattacks and attempts to break the encirclement is also smart. Let the jihadists endure the meat grinder of attacking in urban terrain.

  54. Ghostship says:

    Is there any suitable target for the SAA to aim for? It’s not like the jihadists have a capital city that can be captured forcing them to surrender. Victory for the Syrian government comes from it surviving until all the outside parties have given up believing that regime change is possible at a price they’re prepared to pay and they stop funding their proxy forces. At that point, the SAAs path to victory becomes more conventional – wipe out the jihadis or persuade them to surrender if they’re Syrian or go home if they’re foreign.

  55. 1. today’s situation quite different from Grozny and Fallujah, aspects common to your three examples is the presence of a substantial number of civilians in the area. More elaborate response would call for a post in its own right. There will probably be much more to compare with once “we” start our offensive on Mosul
    2. They most definitely have intel, question is rather how accurate their weapons systems are and what ROEs they set.

  56. Thx Pat. Regarding the points you’re raising, I think it’s almost impossible to establish with any sense of certainty how many genuine civilians still live in rebel controlled Eastern Aleppo. One party will probably try and inflate the numbers, while the other will do the opposite. The 150k estimate is based on an number of known demographic features of the area pre-2011, with factored in departures but also arrivals. It is an estimate … Reality might be closer to 80K, I don’t know, but 40k seems a bit low.
    As for the problem of moving residents out, you’re right, it will be difficult to achieve this as long as the rebels actively oppose such a move. We’ll see if that changes or not over the next few weeks.

  57. In the real world, there are no viable alternatives to the present COA. In lalaland, home to a susbtantial part of the elites in the US foreign policy establishment however, those alternatives would be:
    – providing better weapons to the rebels, i.e. SAMs I suppose … Great idea, considering where such weapons might end up
    – giving the Saudis and other Gulfies a free hand in their efforts to support and finance more rebels, including of the radical variety
    – implementing something just short of a NFZ, kind of a NFZ light, which may also lead to direct confrontation with Russia, or Russian air defence.
    Again, all of these options would play right into the hands of the Saudis, who would like nothing better than the US fighting KSA’s wars.

  58. At this point, I would disagree with such an opinion, but I must admit, it is definitely a possibility.

  59. Afraid I only wrote this piece in English. Working exclusively for SST 😉

  60. Bill Herschel says:

    Assad stays. Syria is partitioned. This is a vanilla colonial war. Just as Iraq was a vanilla colonial war. Just as Afghanistan is a vanilla colonial war. Or Kosovo. (The two most important countries to the heroin trade on earth).

  61. Matthew says:

    PB: Any thoughts on this R2P’er contingency plan? See

  62. Jay says:

    Patrick, Well done. I will ask you this question that I have have asked before. Why do the the Syrians and the Russians keep the Americans around? Why not just throw them out and declare a NFZ. What can we do? We have no leverage as it is. So if the Neoconservatives are playing the election game threatening Russia? Call the ball?

  63. mike allen says:

    Jay –
    IMHO, and probably against the prevailing thoughts of many here, the Russians do not believe they could enforce a No Fly Zone against the coaltion forces in spite of all the hype about the S300 or even the S400.
    Let’s hope we never have to find out.

  64. mike allen says:

    I don’t know anything about the bridges. But I do know that any claim by Syria that the US military coordinated with ISIL before and after the Deir ez-Zor is a pure disinformation campaign. No way that happened.

  65. turcopolier says:

    mike allen
    IMO the Russians are acutely aware that a misstep like trying to exclude US air from Syria could well lead to war in Europe along the NATO/Russian line of contact. pl

  66. turcopolier says:

    mike allen
    Correct me if I am mistaken but I have understood that the Russians informed the US of the location of these SAA troops in advance of the attack on them. If that is correct, what would you call this a giant jug f–k? pl

  67. Rich says:

    Bandolero might be on to something. I watched some drone footage from Aleppo a few days ago and there is no one living in the blocks and blocks of shelled out apartment buildings.

  68. Rich says:

    Here is a recent drone film from Aleppo. Hard to believe there are 200k civilians living in rebel enclave.

  69. mike allen says:

    I would call it a giant jugf@#k whether or not they were informed of the location. There are many precedents going back to the history of military aviation. I do not believe the US military would deliberately give aid and support to ISIL.
    Perhaps the CIA sad sacks? As you yourself have previously mentioned, we do not know much about their doings in Syria. But if the CIA is directing military airstrikes then we are trouble big time. And I cannot say that I have much faith in a CIA plant embedded in ISIL. Sounds too much like Hollywood.

  70. turcopolier says:

    mike allen
    I owe USAF my life from several instances of unpleasantness, but they almost killed me once when a pair if F-4s with guns made a run on NVA in front of us and they came in from behind. The shell casings fell all around us at 300 MPH. pl

  71. rakesh wahi says:

    unless saudi arabia is cleaned up ME and the world will remain messy. Looks like their demographics may catch up with them

  72. Dubhaltach says:

    One point to note is that it is in the interest of the Jihadis to inflate the number of residents. That way they can and do arm twist UN and other relief organisations for more humanitarian aid.
    For a start there is no such thing as non-military aid in these circumstances.
    And of course Twain’s “lies, damned lies, and statistics” coupled with “first casualty in war is truth” both apply.

  73. mike allen says:

    I had a similar experience, not nearly as bad, just an OV-10 with only perhaps one percent of the death and destruction that two F-4s can rain down. But you would think an observation aircraft could see the difference between US and NVA troops.
    And nothing like the mass blue-on-blue jugf__k that 8th Air Force rained down on St Lo killing Lieutenant General McNair and causing and additional 750+ casualties.

  74. charly says:

    Can’t be done. Nato can’t invade part of Syria. They need to invade the whole of Syria, including the Golan. But we all know they wont occupy the Golan and without it Nationalistic Syria would not welcome with roses and everybody knows it.

  75. Qoppa says:

    I think it very much depends on the meaning of the word “with”.
    We know that a lot of “coordinating” of and with the “rebels” is done in the MOC, and the Turkish MOC is just across the border from Bab al-Hawa at Reyhanli, some 50 km from Aleppo. We know they “support” those groups which are deemed moderate enough to be supportable. One of those is Nour al-Din al-Zenki (of recent headchopper fame …), they belong to Fateh Halab, the Aleppo operation room. Which, of course, is led by the strongest factions (Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham).
    In short, there is hardly any distinction, in particular on the military level. What goes to one group, be it weapons or training or information, is shared by all ….
    In addition some jihadists may have occasional “shave off the beards” periods ….
    I do believe that the CIA or Special Ops are careful to have plausible deniability. But in practice it simply doesn´t make much difference ….

  76. Qoppa says:

    As for the number of civilians left in East Aleppo, as pointed out by Ehsani recently, the Syrian government estimate is at ~60.000.
    I tend to believe in the lower numbers. Whenever you get a report from some civilian you hear things like “all my friends have left”, “almost a ghost town” etc.
    Someone mentioned the Daraya evacuation, there the numbers of people to be ecacuated got lower and lower. 8.000, then 5.000, the last number I´ve read was just 1.700. That is *including* 700 fighters!

  77. charly says:

    Surprisingly untouched compared to other cities. (Douma, Deir Erzor and specially cities liberated by American planes). What did surprise me was the number of trees. This indicate to me that not a high number of people live there. Also the building didn’t so much looked bombed as more robbed empty.

  78. robt willmann says:

    Vanessa Beeley, the daughter of British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley, has recently written two interesting articles about Aleppo, Syria, where she had been in her work as an independent reporter and photographer–
    Her father, Sir Harold Beeley, spent a lot of his working life in the British Foreign Service and in roles related to diplomacy outside of the British government–
    We will of course not see her or her writings in the “main stream media”, despite her personal observations and her father’s expertise.

  79. Bandolero says:

    Patrick & all
    Thank you for your frankness. Please allow me to ask for one more opinion from you regarding number estimations. I noticed that you didn’t mention your estimations regarding force numbers in Aleppo in your article here but may I ask you for your opinion anyway? Let me explain:
    For the rebel strength in the Aleppo cauldron measured in men I have two estimations of different ends. For the rebel strength I have an estimation from Julian Roepcke (reporter with focus on Syria working for Germans largest newspaper Bild) which was recently published by Orient News English, a leading rebel news station, quote:
    “… The siege of Aleppo. … These 300,000 people, with maybe 5 percent of them armed, had no chance against your “glorious” army…”
    If I do the math, 5% of 300k would result in a rebel man power strength in Aleppo of 15k. Is a rebel strength of 15k encircled in Aleppo possible? I think so. So the figure of 300k I already said I think it’s much, much inflated. But a relation of 5% of an encircled rebel population in today’s Syria being armed men I would find very odd. From what I see the ratio is usually much higher, take for example Daraya (pre-war population ~250k).
    Western AP reported about the Daraya evacuation (August 2016):
    “Some 700 gunmen and 4,000 civilians were evacuated.”–Damascus-suburb-evacuation-finished.html?isap=1&nav=5070
    That would be a ratio of 700/4700*100% = 15%.
    Non-western @EjmAlrai reported on the same Daraya evacuation:
    “Biggest surprise n #Daraya 1027 militants 750 civilians”
    That would be a ratio of 1027/1777*100% = 58%.
    Whatever it is, 15% from AP or 58% from @EjmAlrai, the 5% ratio given by Roepcke/Orient News for Aleppo seems odd to me. That ratio is in rebel enclaves of today’s Syria usually much higher than 5%.
    That was the rebel side PR, but on the other side I see also very odd things going on regarding East Aleppo rebel and civilian numbers. Take Russian UN ambassador Churkin for example. Sunday 8 days ago he said in the UN Security Council officially 200k civilians + 3500 armed rebels are in encircled East Aleppo. Here is the original in Russian of his speech:
    That would be a ratio militants/total population of 3.5k/203.5k*100% = 1,7%. Very low ratio.
    But on the official website of the Russian embassy with the UN the english transcript of that very Churkin speech said there are just 20k civilians in East Aleppo, quote:
    “I will give more details on the situation in Eastern Aleppo. Eastern Aleppo is controlled by over twenty armed groups with about 3,500 fighters. Jabhat Al-Nusrah units are the main force in the east of the city. Their overall strength amounts to around 2,000 fighters. … Protests have been brutally suppressed by terrorists using arms. Therefore, around 20,000 citizens of Aleppo fell hostage of Jabhat Al-Nusrah terrorists and other affiliated groups. These terrorists try to use women and children as a human shield….”
    That would be a ratio militants/total population of 3.5k/23.5k*100% = 17%. Still low, but a bit more realistic.
    The UN interpreter correctly translated that Churkin said 200k, I checked that. I find it odd that western journalism didn’t notice (or exploit) that divergence of Russian figures regarding numbers of civilians in encircled rebel areas of Aleppo between oral and written speech.
    But it made me start looking closer to such figure estimates. The Syrian army recently released a figure for remaining rebel strength in encircled East Aleppo, if I remember this correctly, well below the 3500 estimate of Churkin.
    The Syrian army & allies strength on the ground in Aleppo I remember off the cuff as having read to be somewhere a bit short of 100k.
    So, what do you think, what’s rebel strength measured in man power on the ground in encircled East Aleppo and what’s the strength of the SAA & allies there?
    PS: latest reports say, after taking Kindi hospital & Shukayyeef yesterday the Syrian army is now storming Awijah:
    Very rapid progress I would say.

  80. Prem says:

    My first thought was that this was the Caliph who lost Baghdad to the Mongols. He was sown up in a sack and trampled by horses. A very odd name to take. But that was apparently al-Mustasim.
    According to wikipedia article on al-Mutasim: “His reign was marked by the introduction of the Turkish slave-soldiers”, which is rather appropriate.

  81. turcopolier says:

    IMO you are correct. This is a hollow shell. pl

  82. turcopolier says:

    The tri-lateral root in “Mu’tasim,” and “Mu’stasim” is the same. The names are different awzan of the same root which I suppose is “ayn-sin-mim.” I forget what that root is connected with in meaning. Anyone have a different opinion. I suppose I could look it up in Wehr. pl

  83. pl,
    I was with my mortar section at a far firing point one evening on the Big Island when we heard the brrrrp brrrrp of a couple of F-4s making a strafing run. We all ran for cover under under the Gamma Goats as a rain shower of 20mm brass peppered the area.

  84. turcopolier says:

    This was in a patch of rubber and the casings cut foot thick trunks off neatly. Somehow none of us was killed. pl

  85. pl,
    Our goats suffered some body damage and torn canvas. Luckily the hundreds of 81mm rounds of HE, WP and illumination were untouched.

  86. mike allen says:

    Colonel & Prem –
    Regarding the al-Mu’tasim Brigade: I finally found my old copy of Hugh Kennedy’s book on the Abassid dynasty. It has 18+ pages devoted to Caliph al-Mu’tasim, but nothing that strikes me as why they named their group after him. Perhaps because he was reportedly a good general – a Caliph who loved the soldier’s life.
    Against the Byzantines he took Ankara and Amorion. He is said to have personally led the campaign, forward of his own troops with only one companion to reconnoiter river fords in hostile territory. He sacked and burned Amorion after laying siege to it for 12 days (which was a great deal shorter than the current siege of Aleppo).
    In the East his armies subdued Azerbaijan and Tabaristan, now the Mazandaran province of Iran in the Elburz Mpuntains just south of the Caspian. He executed Mazyar, the leader of Tabaristan, who is today considered a martyr in Iran.
    As Prem mentions he had recruited and organized an efficient army of mostly Turkic warriors, some had been slaves. Professor Kennedy claims al-Mutasim’s mother was a Turkic slave concubine. His paternal grandmother was the slave girl turned queen al-Khayzuran who some claim was the inspiration for Scheherazade.
    Many Arab officers in his army were not happy campers being subordinate to Turkic generals. So he had to put down a major revolt by them and his nephew. He changed the capitol from Baghdad to Samarra to keep his Turks and Baghdadis from cutting each others throats.

  87. mike allen says:

    Lots happened today:
    The Shekayef industrial area of Aleppo was reputedly taken from jihadis by Aleppo Kurds and the Syrian Army.
    SDF (mostly Kurds) pushed west from Manbij and liberated Al Arima, which is on the road to Al Bab. Erdogab is not going to be happy.
    Brett McGurk tweeted today that the Coalition is actively supporting Syrian opposition forces as they advance to within a few kilometers of the weakening stronghold Dabiq (where Daesh supposedly wants to fight Armageddon).

  88. Jay says:

    You think anyone really wants to find out? Especially us, especially before the election? I do agree that it does open the european door. but again who’s stupid enough to light that match? But I agree let’s hope we don’t find out.

  89. jld says:

    “No way that happened.”
    Cannot prove a negative.
    Or can you???

  90. I'veBeenANaughtyBoy says:

    The trouble with the “Exceptional(ly stupid)s” running the show in DC is that they seem convinced they can win a war with Russia. The cacophony of anti Russian & in particular anti Putin rhetoric has reached levels that leave me speechless – I cannot believe they are considering this & yet they must be. There is no other explanation for the coordinated propaganda spewing forth from the media & from the various spokesthings representing TPTB.
    One doesn’t need to visit many sites, especially ones trying to put some balance into the reporting on Syria, to realise the majority of US citizens seem to see war with Russia will be another case of “Rah, Rah, USA,USA !!” & a foregone conclusion. Comments about rusted equipment, drunken conscripts, are easily found as are threads on how easy it is going to be to “Kick the commies asses” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. America has not fought a war against an opponent that could give as good as it got with weapon systems as good & in some (a lot even ???) cases far superior to US equipment, since Germany in WW 2 !!. It’s true. You use overwhelming “Shock & Awe” against countries that are usually Third World, have never had your technical advances. They have usually been subject to years of US/UN sanctions & what air force they have is destroyed in the first 36 hours.
    Fighting Russia will be NOTHING like that & if Russia is fighting a NATO invasion on it’s Motherland, the majority of the Russian people will fight to the death. I don’t think a majority of the US would. When they find out their air force has been decimated, their carrier squadrons burnt to the water line they will be shocked into submission in my view apart from a basically insignificant minority. If you facilitate war with Russia you will be forced to go nuclear to win & the madmen running the show will, which is why Clinton MUST not become pResident.

  91. Martin Oline says:

    I found this on south front this morning. It is a nice time-lapse for the last year showing the battle around Aleppo:

  92. Laguerre says:

    al-Mu’tasim (833-842)was the caliph who founded Samarra, and recruited the first Turkish slave soldiers, what were later called Mamluks.
    What I find curious is that he is normally connected with anti-Salafism, and indeed pursued the inquisition against the ancestors of the Salafis. He was the penultimate to pursue the anti-Salafi policy.
    However he was quite a famous military man – maybe that’s it.

  93. Laguerre says:

    al-Mu’tasim billah means ‘he who cleaves to God’.

  94. Laguerre says:

    ‘Perhaps because he was reportedly a good general’
    Yeah, that’s the only explanation I could think of. Because he was anti-Salafi. What we would now call Salafism – literal Sunnism – was represented then by Ahmad ibn Hanbal in Baghdad. Mu’tasim’s brother and predecessor, al-Ma’mun, instigated an inquisition against Hanbali types, intended to impose an official theology. The policy was pursued by Mu’tasim, but abandoned after his death, and the Caliphs gave up trying to keep them down. In many ways the present-day religious conflicts are a replay of what happened then.

  95. Bill Herschel says:

    From: linked to by robt willmann above
    “Russian lessons learned during Grozny 3 include:
    The military did not permit moratoriums or ceasefires, which they said allowed the Chechens to regroup and resupply in the first battle for the city. This also eliminated federal force complaints that the politicians were keeping Russian forces from winning.”
    This makes me believe that the Russians have absolutely no doubt who will win in Syria. Put another way, they have absolutely no doubt that their, Russian, troops are not in danger. On the other hand, negotiation is always better than war… in their view. It seems to be clear that in the view of the current Pentagon, war is always better than negotiation. And, very unfortunately, Hillary Clinton.
    History will point the finger of blame for this catastrophic situation squarely at the Republican Party. For the “deep bench” of Republican candidates to be swept aside by a tired old clubhouse bloviator means that the constant propaganda emanating from Fox, etc., has destroyed the Republican Party and it will not be rebuilt.

  96. LeaNder says:

    Anna, I have mixed feelings about the interview. …
    “There can be no war in the Middle East without Egypt, but there can be no peace in the Middle East without Syria.”
    Whose quote, Kissinger’s or Assad, senior’s? (first link at the bottom of the page)
    Remember the Arab Spring? I was fascinated by it, glued to Al Jazeera especially in Egypt. Pat warned me early, pointing out basic socioeconomic, structural and cultural factors. …
    It was easy to witness that the Arab Spring in Egypt turned quickly into an Islamist winter. Whatever democratic forces started it, they didn’t have the same organizational structures to have any type of impact in the election after protesters managed to “bring down the regime”.
    Remember Erdogan at that time? Its spread elsewhere? …
    I recently read a book on the Benghazi attacks, seems the eastern part that drew my attention too at the time, but in a much more limited way, may have been heavily inhabited by Islamist for longer at that point. What would a closer look at war supporting fighter tourism tell us?
    The people want to bring down the regime:
    That always was the wish of Al Qaeda too. Wasn’t it? Now they may have modified their public presentations slightly, or their basic parallel anti-American (?) position to their own present advantage. … The way Israel surfaces as active and who it supports in matters is no doubt interesting. And yes, as is the realignment of Erdogan.

  97. mike allen says:

    thanks Laguerre –
    That makes sense. Kennedy’s book did not mention that. But it did say that both his father Harun al-Rashid and his brother al-Ma’mun were lovers of wine, women and song. So they probably got a lot of grief from the Salafi types.

  98. Anna says:

    Who is in charge of these decisions – Ashton Carter?
    “A Syrian top official said the country’s intelligence unit possesses an audio recording of a conversation between the ISIL group and the US military before the airstrikes by the US-led coalition on the Syrian army troops near Deir Ezzur on September 17th.”

  99. Joe100 says:

    TTG –
    Fortunately I avoided an F-4 close call like your’s and Col. Lang’s. But there was the day an F-4 was making a bombing run across the river from our company position near Liberty Bridge. I had stepped through a narrow tree line next to the company CP to take a leak and as I turned back the tree line exploded as all the other CP members crashed through.
    One snakeye bomb had lost a retarding fin, which sent the bomb on a wild trajectory away from the target that ended with the bomb landing on top of our HST team’s pack and radio. Fortunately the bomb did not arm (as is probably intended with such malfunctions), but I don’t think the CP members watching the snakeye falling towards them were counting on that..

  100. Babak Makkinejad says:

    They had pirated that from some Iranian site.

  101. Babak Makkinejad says:

    One can look at the records, if kept, of the pumping station that was finally destroyed two weeks ago, to determine how much water was consumed by Western Aleppo over the past few weeks and months. From that, one can estimate how many human beings have been living there.
    The Aleppo Water Authority would know.

  102. J says:

    HE and WP cooking off, I shudder (my whole body) to think of such a thing. Oooohhh, shudder.

  103. FB Ali says:

    Laguerre, Mike Allen,
    Considering who al-Mutasim was, and the fact that the Liwa named after him was ‘hooted out’ by the Turks and Turcomans, I would presume that the Liwa was formed and is led by some Syrian Army defectors. As is usual with such groups, they are considered (probably rightly) by other rebel groups as CIA creations, who are mostly around to get as much money as possible out of the Americans.
    Not surprising that some US troops are embedded with them. Maybe these were the ones being referred to in reports of Americans etc being caught up in Aleppo.

  104. charly says:

    Not really. People use about a gallon a day to eat/drink and 10 gallons to pee/shit and i don’t know how much to water a garden. So 100 gallons could be 1 garden or 10 people with toilet or a 100 without a toilet.

  105. Jonathan House says:

    I just posted a link to Patrick’s article on the NYTimes in the comments on the article “U.S. Suspends Talks With Russia on Syria” It seems to have been posted.

  106. Lord Curzon says:

    Nothing beats a good dolly mixture on target. Close by, not so much!

  107. Peter says:

    Mike Allen is simply expressing his unwillingness to accept something that very well could have happened.

  108. mike allen says:

    Thank you sir. I expect you are right about CIA backing. They just recently came in from refitting in Turkey though so I suspect the embedded Americans have only been with them a short while, and only in northern Aleppo Province and not in the city.
    I also note that near Dabiq the commander of the Sultan Murad Brigade has been reported killed by a Daesh mine.
    That troops of that brigade were the ones doing the hooting. They and other groups were a creation of the MIT, the Turkish CIA. Which may be the reason why the MIT missed July’s coup attempt (if that was a real attempt and not an Erdogan inspired one so he could consolidate power), they were too busy messing around in Syria.
    The Sultan Murad Brigade are mostly all Turcomen, some from Syria, some from Turkey, some jihadis, some Gray Wolf Turkish nationalists. And aren’t they the ones that shot down the Russian pilots in their parachutes and defiled their bodies? They are going to need some good mine-clearing support to take Dabiq. Regardless of American air and Turkish tanks and artillery.

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