THE FALL OF ALEPPO: A TURNING POINT IN THE SYRIAN WAR?
"Syria's government ignored a rebel cease-fire proposal for Aleppo on Wednesday as its forces captured new neighborhoods around the city center and squeezed some 200,000 tired and frightened civilians into a shattered and rapidly shrinking opposition enclave. Facing a punishing and brutal defeat, rebel factions proposed a five-day cease-fire for the eastern parts of the city to evacuate the wounded and civilians wishing to flee. "The artillery shelling is non-stop," a resident told The Associated Press by messaging service. He asked to conceal his name out of fear for his safety. "The humanitarian situation is really tough. There are corpses on the streets. ... There is very little food. Bread is distributed every two or three days, six pieces per family. That's small, not enough for breakfast," he said. Government officials had not directly addressed the rebel proposal by the evening. "The decision to liberate all of Syria has been taken, and that includes Aleppo," Syrian President Bashar Assad told the state newspaper al-Watan.... The Syrian government and its ally Russia have rejected previous cease-fires for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive that has forced rebel retreats and displaced at least 30,000 civilians in the past 11 days, according to U.N. figures. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany but did not release any statements.".Sarah El Deeb & philip Issa, "Syrian Government Advances Despite Rebel Cease-Fire Offer". ABC New. 7 December 2016, in www.abc.go.com
"As Bashar al-Assad’s forces close in on the last districts of the rebel stronghold in eastern Aleppo, the Syrian president is on the verge of winning the symbolically important battle — and with it, his supporters say, the civil war. The east of Aleppo, Syria’s second city, was the rebels’ last big urban stronghold and is seen as crucial to the outcome of Syria’s five-year-old war. Its loss would largely relegate the rebels to a rural insurgency. But after five years of bloodshed, no victory in Syria is ever really decisive. “Whoever wins Aleppo wins the war in Syria — for the short term. But over the long term, who knows? Everything is possible in Syria,” says Rami Abdelrahman, head of the UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.... Syria is now a kaleidoscope of fiefdoms. The jihadist group Isis still holds swathes of eastern Syria, as does a powerful Kurdish militia in the north-east. Even the badly bruised rebels, with tens of thousands of fighters, still cling to an archipelago of territory across the country. “It’s the ‘Swiss cheese theory’ — Syria becomes a piece of Swiss cheese with lots of holes,” argues one opposition figure, who asked not to be named. “Some areas will be the product of regional agreements or mutual understandings that are not up to the regime. Regime sovereignty is never going to come back.” With the help of his powerful backers — Russia, Iran and regional Shia militias such as Lebanon’s Hizbollah — Mr Assad has basically won back control of what some observers cynically call “useful Syria”. That is, the central cities and major population centre that stretch from Syria’s north, along the Mediterranean coast and Lebanese border, and into the capital of Damascus".Erika Solomon, "Aleppo defeat unlikely to signal end of conflict". The Financial Times. 9 December 2017, in www.ft.com. What can one say then about the fall of Aleppo in terms of the overall situation in Syria? Firstly, it seems self-evident that conquest of Aleppo by the forces of the Assad regime and its allies (Syrian, Persian, Hezbollah, Iraqi, Russian), is an important victory. With the fall of Aleppo, the Assad regime now controls all of the major urban areas of the country. And given the brutal if effective tactics employed, there seems very little doubt that going forward that no urban area can stand out against the combined forces (Syrian and non-Syrian) which determined the outcome of the battle for Aleppo. Au fond of course, this does not gainsay the fact that it is not altogether clear that Assad has enough forces at present, Syrian or non-Syrian to conclusively defeat the Sunni insurgents. The best example of that being the loss, however temporary of Palmyra this week to the butchers of ISIS 1. It is also not entirely clear that Assad's non-Syrian allies are willing to continue to wage the struggle on the same level that they have been doing so for the last fifteen months. Certainly, if they were to do so, then it might very well be the case, that the regime will endeavor to re-capture all of the minor urban centers in the Aleppo to Damascus corridor, as well as all coastline to the Mediterranean 2. And while some like the ever-wise Jonathan Landis proclaim that the fall of Aleppo heralds "the imposition of a new security architecture in the northern Middle East for the next several decades" 3, this seems to me to be mistaking the wood for the trees. Id. est., even with the control of all major and minor urban areas, it seems self-evident, that the Sunni insurgency will continue, smoldering, if not necessarily very successfully for years to come. The examples of Algeria after 1989 or Ceylon in the 1970's and after ring to mind. Which is again not to gainsay the fact that with the fall of Aleppo a rubicon in military terms has been crossed and the likelihood of the Assad regime, being ousted by the Sunni opposition and their Gulf Arab allies has evaporated perhaps forever. Since in these types of military conflicts psychology can be as an important a factor as military hardware. As the Prussian military commentator Clausewitz aptly put it long ago:
"A general uprising, as we see it , should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless, drop their weapons" 4.1. Erika Solomon, "Isis retakes ancient Syrian city of Palmyra". The Financial Times. 12 December 2016, in www.ft.com. 2. Melissa Dalton, "What options do we have in Syria". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 15 December 2016, in www.csis.org. 3. Erika Solomon & Geoff Dyer, "The battle for Aleppo: ‘It felt like the last goodbye’". The Financial Times. 16 December 2016, in www.ft.com 4. Karl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (1980), p. 481.