The “Aleppo Playbook”  is nothing but bullshit propaganda – TTG

Russian engineer conducting de-mining operation in Aleppo – Russian Ministry of Defense photo

For English teacher Hamdo, watching Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought back memories of the darkest days of his life — the siege of his city, Aleppo, in 2016.

Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.The war has caused hundreds of civilian deaths, including dozens of children, and forced more than three million people to flee the country. But six years before its Ukraine war, Russia began another ruthless military operation thousands of kilometers away in Syria — to prop up the Bashar al-Assad regime. Victims of that war say the scenes from Ukraine on their television screens look hauntingly familiar.

With the help of Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its allies turned eastern Aleppo into a kill box. Three-hundred thousand of its residents were besieged, cut off from food and bombed into submission in December, 2016. It was a tactic used throughout the war and across the country, including alleged chemical attacks, which it denied. Those who survived the shelling had to leave behind what was left of their homes.

“They destroyed us; they destroyed our psychology,” Hamdo said. He recalled going to a hospital days before he left the city only to find himself walking over bodies to get through to his friend. “This is what will happen in Ukraine,” he said. “What’s going on in Ukraine is only the beginning.”

Comment: This story is told over and over again in the Western press. It’s called the “Aleppo Playbook” for short and claims that Russia intends to destroy every major city in Ukraine just like they destroyed Aleppo in 2016. I don’t remember it that way at all. 

The battle of Aleppo began in 2012. There was active, violent and deadly combat continually between jihadis and the Syrian military for the next four years. It never stopped. There was tremendous destruction and high casualties among both the combatants and the civilian population. But this was Syria’s war, not Russia’s. Yes, Russian Aerospace Forces did participate in the intense one month bombing of Aleppo in September-October 2016. That bombing did kill civilians, but its purpose was to rid the city of jihadis which was finally accomplished by the Syrian Arab Army. At one point, Russia was accused of deliberately bombing a relief column of humanitarian aid. Turns out they didn’t. More propagandistic bullshit. It was Syrian aircraft.

The destruction of large parts, not all, of Aleppo is due to active combat against a determined and, in this case, ruthless foe over a prolonged period. This is no different that countless European cities in WWII. It was no different than many cities in Iraq that suffered tremendous destruction at our hands. That’s what happens when determined foes are determined to defeat each other in a built up area. Things break and people die. This didn’t happen in Paris because neither side decided to fight for it. That raises a whole different moral question.

Russia’s conduct in Syria remains, in my opinion, a model of military intervention. Their footprint was always small, primarily AD/A2, trainers and advisors and the military police of the unique and the highly effective Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria. That, by itself, was an absolutely brilliant accomplishment. They guided the training and equipping of the Syrian military in consonance with the existing military. They did not try to make the Syrian Arab Army into a copy of the Russian Army. In hindsight, that decision was even smarter than it appeared at the time. 

The record of Russia in Syria is the record of military power applied in a smart and judicious manner that allowed Syria to rescue herself from defeat at the hands of the jihadis. It is a record to be proud of and a record that I still admire. It’s amazing that Putin and his once much vaunted military machine have now screwed the pooch so badly in Ukraine. Well, it’s like they say, “One aw-shit wipes away all the attaboys.”


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36 Responses to The “Aleppo Playbook”  is nothing but bullshit propaganda – TTG

  1. mcohen says:

    Russia was given a free hand by the west.thats the difference.that and the righteous cause of saving orthodox Christians.Ukraine is slavs fighting amongst themselves.The European white man wars are the worst.nothing like aleppo.In the end only an act of God will stop it before it gets worse.imho.

    • Datil D says:

      “Russia was given a free hand by the west”

      The west trained and supported the jihadis, Russia came in and it didn’t end as the west intended, imho Ukraine won’t end as the west intends either, regime change in Russia.

    • Deap says:

      The West must be getting stingy. Biden only gave Russia a free pass for a “minor incursion” in Ukraine.

      Incursion yes; minor or major is for others to decide. Perhaps Biden can flesh out his terms once he arrives in Europe to take charge of his NATO allies.

      Pay attention if he starts whispering again; the is when he unloads the good stuff.

  2. Christian J. Chuba says:

    And I remember how we congratulated ourselves for a month after helping Iraq capture Mosul.

    We demolished Mosul and killed up to 10,000 civilians with air strikes and artillery. In the first part of the battle, ISIS handed the Iraqi security forces their rear end on a platter. After that, the Iraqis would call in an air strike or artillery at the first sign of gunfire. A sniper or machine gun in a window? No problem, just destroy most of the building. Hey I get it, I’d be scared out of my mind too. Patrick Cockburn wrote extensively on the battle of Mosul as a war correspondent. His description of the battle rang true to me.

    When we or Israel do this, we dismiss it with ‘human shields’.
    BTW I am not justifying Russia’s campaign, I just regret the lack of self-reflection on our part.

    • cofer says:

      So easy to read the so called ‘news’ and criticize.
      I take it you never put yourself in any danger, never faced the human sheilds that are very real in some parts, never had these dilemmas, never were responsible for the safety and survivle of your brothers. It’s a war and it’s ugly.

      • Christian J. Chuba says:

        I said as much … >>I’d be scared out of my mind too<<
        If we said, 'war is hell and we did things out of necessity', I'd be fine with that. But instead we patted ourselves on the back and then lectured Russia / SAA about how they were animals in how they dealt w/Aleppo.

        Mosul was a very sloppy operation. The Iraqi security forces tried to avoid civilian casualties for the first 6 mo's but then lost their nerve after suffering 30% plus casualties. I get it. Fighting ISIS was hard and yes, I'd be passing a brick out my backside too. But if we say that it's okay to destroy an entire building because there is one military target (like a sniper) then let's apply that rule across the board and not just our allies.

        [BTW I really do tend to irritate people w/o trying, I wish I could find a way to monetize it]

  3. Christian J. Chuba says:

    This is a technology oriented post so please forgive the cold blooded nature of my comment

    The article basically says that Russia is using small autonomous, suicide drones to hit targets without a person authorizing the strike. BTW I am suspicious of this claim because Russia seems to be lagging in drone technology (hey Russia, partner with Iran, they are good at drone stuff). Anyway … drone technology kind of has to go in this direction. I think of them as ‘smart bullets’. You identify a target and release your bumblebees to destroy it without controlling them.

    Yeah, I get the ethical issues. I’d limit the usage to very short range targets programmed for ‘get that guy’, not long range hunt and destroy missions. I’d also add a self destruct mechanism if they don’t hit the target within 5 minutes. The self-destruct mechanism can be very simple, plow into the ground after 5 minutes.

    • Fourth and Long says:

      On the topic “cold blooded” and “flying machine crashed into the ground” has it occurred to the committee that a Boeing airliner crashed in China reportedly killing 132 people none of whom were foreign the day after our pretzeldent Inbed, sorry, Biden, warned Chairmunk Xi there would be consequences? Or am I pair annoyed?

      • Pat Lang says:

        F and L
        You are a bit strange. Airplanes DO fall out of the sky.

      • Lysias says:

        I was wondering if the pilot blacked out because of being vaccinated.

      • Leith says:

        Extremely steep dive, nose first almost vertical. Pilot suicide?

        There is reportedly a crackpot Chinese internet yahoo blaming it on Elon Musk’s Starlink.

  4. plantman says:

    I wonder if the author of this post has read this in The Economist

    I would imagine the Colonel probably knows Mearscheimer(?)

    I know I’m not changing any minds, but at least the opposing view is presented rationally and historically.


  5. James says:

    As I remember it the other notable thing about the battle of Aleppo is that the Jihadis would not allow the civilians to leave the part of Aleppo that they controlled.

  6. Harry says:

    My opinion is irrelevant but for what its worth I totally agree. With respect to Ukraine, maybe part of it is just that the job was always very very difficult? Not forgetting that very small errors can result in disproportionate costs. Not getting fuel to the right place at the right time for example…

  7. Leith says:

    Sloppy journalism.

    They are probably confusing the several hundred barrel bomb attacks on Aleppo by the Syrian military. Or Ghouta? Or Hafez’s leveling of Hama in 1982?

    • Pat Lang says:

      Just another kind of bomb. CAS. Ghouta was a White Helmets film company production and Hama asked for it with the attack on an Alawi cadet school.

    • Victor says:

      Barrel bombing was actually an accurate method to deal with jihadists in urban areas….AND mostly those areas were deserted except for the fighters. It is estimated that there were only 80,000 people in Eastern Aleppo not 250,000-300K. Most of these people were not allowed to leave by the cowards that consisted of the Al-nusra/al-Qaeda affiliated opposition.
      Toward the end of the Aleppo operation civilians fled to the Syrian army in droves.
      It served Assad no purpose with all the international attention to bomb his own people into oblivion he wanted to unite the country.

  8. Sam says:

    Niall Ferguson: Putin and Biden Misunderstand History in Ukraine War – Bloomberg

    Worth a read IMO.

    Biden is making a colossal mistake in thinking he can bleed Russia dry, topple Putin and signal to China to keep its hands off Taiwan.
    Begin with the military situation, which Western analysts consistently present in too favorable a light for the Ukrainians. As I write, it is true that the Russians seem to have put on hold their planned encirclement of Kyiv, though fighting continues on the outskirts of the city. But the theaters of war to watch are in the east and the south.

    In the east, according to military experts whom I trust, there is a significant risk that the Ukrainian positions near the Donbas will come under serious threat in the coming weeks. In the south, a battalion-sized Chechen force is closing in on the besieged and 80%-destroyed city of Mariupol. The Ukrainian defenders lack resupply outlets and room for tactical breakout. In short, the fall of Mariupol may be just days away. That in turn will free up Russian forces to complete the envelopment of the Donbas front.

    • Pat Lang says:

      “According to military experts whom I trust,” Who are they?

      • Harry says:

        Prof Ferguson is very well connected. I would imagine someone he was at Oxford with is now with the MoD.

    • JohninMK says:

      As I understand it, it is the Russian Army and especially the DNR militia that are doing the closing in as you put it in Mariupol and bearing the brunt of the casualties. The Chechens, who it seems are not trained as assault troops, are acting almost in a large scale MP role, taking over and sorting things out after areas are captured.

  9. jim ticehurst says:

    And I Hope the Next..Aw Shit” to Quote TTG…Does Not Mean a Mushroom Cloud Over Washington DC..And Surrounding Area..V. Putin Is Beyond Lacking A Clear Head
    and Good Judgement..

    • Bill Roche says:

      JT : I don’t agree w/y. I recently watched Putin speak (youtube) to a staged assemblage of the most beautiful Russian women all dolled to the 9’s. Maybe they were Aeroflot stews?? But staged or not Putin was in command of himself and the show. I’m not as polished a poster as many so my observations are simple. Here is my take away about this war. Despite all Putin’s parsing he won’t accept Ukrainian independence. He will “allow” Ukrainians autonomy provided they know the Russians are their boss. And that they show fealty to their betters. For their part the Ukrainians respond gluckyou. I have said ad nauseum, Ukraine is the necessary start to restore Russia to July 1914, but only a start. So I think Putin has a clear head. But a head driven to restore Russia while he still is alive. But Ukraine will not yield, certainly not now. This is a battle of Slavic will.

      • Leith says:

        Bill –

        Maybe so. But Putin plays Russian Roulette and not the five-dimensional chess that some have attributed to him.

      • jim ticehurst says:

        Bill…Yes..I Saw I Saw Putin in His Custom Made $14,000\
        Dollar Custom Coat..The Germans Say Its Lined With a Special Body Armor…And His Legs Are Wrapped With Similar Armor\
        I Imagine to Protect Him From shrapnel..Grenades..I Suppose..

        Media Has Reported That V. Putin Has The Of The Russian Population..Support of 90 Percent of the Russian Population..

        The Other ten Percent Have Been Chopped up and Stuffed
        In Suitcases..or Checking Thier Homes For Cameras and Mike Mikes..

        Remember..Adolph..The Krystal Nacht Guy..Had Big Crowds too..and Ted Bundy charmed Many Young Women..

        As Far as Alternative News Sources..I Watch German Tv Once a Day..And Get a German Paper Delivered Once a Month..

        Thier Papers Are Very Large..All In Color..Graphic..And Nothing But News and Photos..From Brginning To End..With Some Soccer scores on The Last Page..

        I Agree With All Else You Say..I Dont Think Putin Will
        Get into Hios Russia Uber Alles Mode..Until He And China
        Control Ukraine Ports..and then Move On to The Middle East
        To Control World Oil Supplys..The Saudis Have That One Figured Out Already..and Are Very Nervous..

        China..After Al..Controls Almost Every thing Else..On Every Continent in the World..
        Including Old MacDonalds FARM..

      • English Outsider says:

        Bill – Putin’s after de-natoisation. All other aims, including de-nazification, are subordinate to that.

        Obviously the Donbas will no longer be part of the Ukraine. That chance was lost when Minsk 2 was lost. I doubt very much it would be possible to persuade them back in even if that were tried. Nor Mariupol now. As soon ask the Irish to rejoin the UK after the Black and Tans had done with them.

        As this unnecessary war drags on it could be that other parts of the Ukraine are lost to neighbouring countries. But that’s speculation. The real question is, can the Russians get de-natoisation of the Ukraine without occupying it?

        If they can’t then they’re in trouble. Ukraine is bust. It needs an enormous amount of money just to keep it going. Russia doesn’t have that sort of money. The Russians have been saying to the West about Ukraine for years, “You broke it. You mend it”. If they occupy they’ll have to mend it themselves. They can’t afford to.

        So they need a quick settlement. But the neocons don’t. They want the Ukraine to become a permanent running sore on Russia’s flank, preferably with guerilla war.

        Difficult therefore to see how Zelensky can agree to a quick settlement. Zelensky’s no more than the sum of the forces acting on him. With the neo-nazis likely to kill him on the one side if he agrees a settlement, and NATO pushing him against a settlement on the other, he’s unlikely to be able to agree the sort of settlement Russia wants.

        So the end result is not easy to predict. The Ukrainians lost the war as soon as it started. But there’s a strong possibility that neither they nor the Russians will win the peace.

        Much the same applies to Poland and the Baltics. More so. Russia couldn’t afford to occupy them either. They’re better off being supported by the EU. And in both those cases there’d certainly be guerrilla war till kingdom come should there be a Russian occupation. So you should not worry about Russia’s expansionist ambitions in Eastern Europe. They don’t have any.

        Unless the Russian populations in the Baltics need rescuing as well. All bets are off in that case.

        From a European perspective there are further problems yet. The broader Russian security demands have not been met. In fact they’re no longer talked about. I don’t believe the Russians have forgotten them.

        One of the cards they have to play on that is the energy card. If the Europeans, in their current Russophobic war fever, don’t play if for them first. If the energy card is played then Scholz can’t afford his formidable new army and that to a considerable extent reduces the NATO threat.

        I find in my own country that few understand the significance of what happened on February 21st. That date marked the final turning away of Russia from us towards the East. They’re done with the West. Their problem now is that the West isn’t done with them.

        My hope is that our politicians will see sense and stop threatening Russia with ever larger armies. Not much of a hope but I’ll cling to it for a while yet.

  10. FarNorth says:

    I found this article interesting. He is a retired marine Colonel with 31 years of service on the ground in Ukraine.

  11. Jeffrey Blankfort says:

    When TTG, the author of this article, writes:

    “The record of Russia in Syria is the record of military power applied in a smart and judicious manner that allowed Syria to rescue herself from defeat at the hands of the jihadis. It is a record to be proud of and a record that I still admire,” it’s not clear whether or not he was on the spot to judge it and what credentials he has to do so.

    Did I miss something?

    • Pat Lang says:

      Jeffrey Blankfort
      Who the hell are you to question the intense attention TTG and I gave to these events? You are a newcomer. Educate yourself in our archive or be gone!

  12. Jeffrey Blankfort says:

    Well, I guess this is clearly company in which I am obviously not welcome but just to answer your question, I have been a journalist, a radio host and a photographer, Col. Lang and I have visited the Middle East on a number of occasions, beginning with four and a half months in Lebanon and Jordan in 1970, mostly in Palestinian refugee camps, which included the beginning of Black September.

    That’s when I had my first whiff of Hazez al-Assad who, as the head of the Syrian air force, refused to provide air cover for then Syrian president Nuridden Attassi when he sent his tanks across the border to defend the Palestinians under attack by King Hussein, forcing the Jordanian tanks to withdraw. (Saddam Hussein did his part by withdrawing the 10,000 Iraqi troops, then in Jordan, ostensibly to defend the Palestinians to go back home which explains the king’s later support for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.)

    A few months later Hafez al-Assad staged a coup against the ONLY Arab government to unconditionlly support the Palestinians, arresting Attassi and several hundred Palestinians and defunding the government back Palestinian militia, Al Saika, which had been a funding source for the DFLP.

    In 1976, at the beginning of the Lebanese civil war, I watched on TV as soldiers from Hafez’s Syrian army, joined the Christian Falange in the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camp of Tal al Zaatar in the Christian section of Beirut where I had spent 10 days back in 1970. Thirteen years later, in 1983, I and two fellow journalists were almost killed by an RPG when Palestinian thugs, under Abu Musa and paid for by Hafez al Assad, were shelling the refugee camp of Bedawi, outside of Tripoli in Northern Lebanon while the Israelis were occupying the South.

    I saw a stack of dead bodies, victims of Abu Musa’s attack, stacked in the back of an open refrigerator truck and in the Tripoli hospital there was so much blood and bodily fluids in the hallways that it was hard to walk without slipping. Sadly, Palestinians don’t talk about this nor about the Syrian army’s collaboration with the Falangists. Maybe it is because Assad and later son, Bashar, allowed the PFLP and the DFLP and later Hamas, to set up offices there.

    So I have been giving some attention to these events (and have followed your writings in the past, mostly approving, but when I read a statement filled with such pomposity from TTG, which I cited, I am going to call it out.

  13. Master Slacker says:

    Ukraine South and East (Black Sea) are the oil fields everyone wants so they can pay for this fight. It would be my humble opinion that once the breakout states and Crimea are safely Russian there will be a breakthrough negotiation – Putin’s Golden Bridge will suddenly become a real option. Meanwhile this is a “make them pay for my embarrassment” and keep up the distraction in the North.

  14. Wunduk says:

    I do know nothing about Ukraine, but from what I see on the media there is considerable difference between the battles in Syria and particularly the Aleppo situation and anything in Ukraine.

    I remember that the battle for Aleppo started in July 2012 as a siege by forces based in the countryside (rif) around the city and turned first into siege of the Government-help portions of the city. There was conflict among the 14-16 different non-state armed groups. Government forces relieved the garrison in 2013. I remember that between May and August 2014 I concluded that the strategic balance had swung towards Assad.

    The old city was already heavily damaged and the historic bazaar destroyed in 2013 through the operations of the non-state armed groups besieging the government forces. Widespread destruction across the city occurred when different groups carved out independent fiefdoms. You and other correspondents chronicled that all on this blog.

    He had maintained cohesion of the SAR and the army. The Russians came in after the renewed offensive by Nusra in Idlib in spring 2015 and of Islamic State in the East. So the destruction cameras captured in late 2016 had been the cumulation of three and a half years of shelling by all parties.

    As to the Russian assistance, I think I can quote here a Russian senior military officer, who in the summer of 2016 in half-jest stated that ‘the Syrians took everything from us, arms, ammunition, fuel, money but never our advice.’

  15. Sam says:

    I’ve been trying to avoid posting images of the destruction in Ukraine but this obliteration of Mariupol by the Russian troops needs to be out there. 90% of the city is gone. Duda said it looks like Warsaw in 1944 and it does.

    Dunno how accurate this video is but if it is a true current representation then Mariupol is mostly rubble. Does this mean that Russian forces still have significant firepower in this theatre?

    It appears what I read about the military situation is about the prevention of Russian military forces from encirclement of Kiev. However there’s a dearth of information about what’s actually happening militarily in the south and east of Ukraine. Is this because that’s not going well for the Ukrainians?

    • TTG says:


      That video doesn’t show rubble. Stalingrad, Dresden, Warsaw, Tokyo, Hiroshima and others were left in rubble. I’m sure there are localized buildings and neighborhoods reduced to little more than rubble like the theater. Seems most of the trees are still alive, although windows in most photos I see have taken a real beating. A lot of the damage appears to be from very large missile explosions rather than sustained artillery barrages. Look at the crater from the strike on the maternity hospital.

      You’re right about the coverage of Kyiv. That’s only natural being the capital. Mariupol is always in the news. It’s just that the military situation is static. Mikoliev and Kherson is also fairly well covered. What we don’t hear much about is the Donetsk-Luhansk regions. Much is still static since that’s where the Ukrainians have built defensive positions for eight years. Some of the towns and smaller cities there have definitely been reduces to near rubble. And casualties on this front have surely been high on both sides.

    • zmajcek says:

      The reports of near total (90%) devastations are an exaggeration. According to the photos I’ve seen it is far from it. Apartment complexes are often heavily damaged but that makes sense since they provide a good field of view and shelter to the defending forces.
      Most of the fighting seems to be in the Donbass area since that is where most of the Ukrainian forces are. According to some accounts of people that are there, the Russians are moving slowly to minimize losses. Ukrainian army is putting up a good fight, but is running out of fuel, ammo and men.

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