Skip to main content

After Entering Aleppo With Russia's Help, The Syrian Army May Set Its Sights On Raqqa



By Robert Fisk

After losing up to 60,000 soldiers in five years of fighting, the Syrian army has suddenly scored its greatest victory of the war – smashing its way through Jabhat al-Nusra and the other rebel forces around Aleppo and effectively sealing its fate as Russia provided air strike operations outside the city.

The rebel supply lines from Turkey to Aleppo have been cut, but this does not mean the end of the story. For many months, the regime’s own military authorities – along with tens of thousands of civilians, including many Christians – were trapped inside Aleppo and at the mercy of shelling and mortar fire by the Nusra fighters, who surrounded them until the army opened the main highway south.
During this period, the only way to Aleppo was by plane because the army held a tiny peninsula of territory going to the airport – I flew out one night on a military aircraft crowded with wounded Syrian troops.
But the tables have turned. It is the rebels themselves who are now surrounded, along with the tens of thousands of civilians in their sector of the city – but they have no airport to sustain them. On the basis of so many other battles in this appalling war, there is unlikely to be any offensive for the centre of this greatest of Syrian cities; rather it will be a slow and grinding siege to force the insurgents to surrender.

In an ironic twisting of recent history, the two Shia villages of Nubl and Zahra – whose people had been surrounded by rebels and starved for three years, fed only by Syrian military airdrops – have now been retaken by the Syrian military.

The Shia, co-religionists of the Alawite people from which President Bashar al-Assad comes, have been cornered in several villages in the region, although their plight has gone largely unreported.

Now the people in the rebel-held part of Aleppo are going to feel the same sense of isolation – and, no doubt, the shellfire of their besiegers. There has always been a movement of people between the two sectors of the city – will these passages now be closed? And what of the tens of thousands of civilians streaming north towards Turkey?

Aleppo itself was late to join the war. By some kind of historical miracle, it remained disentangled from the conflict until 2012 when rebels – thinking they were en route to Damascus – managed to infiltrate into the ancient city. Its streets were then burned out in months of fighting. Now it appears to be the first of Syria’s large cities to be effectively back in the hands of the regime. What comes next? The retaking of the Roman city of Palmyra? The clearing of the lands around Deraa (of Lawrence of Arabia fame)?

And, much more dramatically, how soon will the Syrian army, its Hezbollah allies and the Russian air force set their course for the Isis “capital” of Raqqa?

Isis, which holds Palmyra, must be learning of the extraordinary developments of the past few hours with deep concern. The everlasting Sunni “Islamic Caliphate” in Syria doesn’t look so everlasting any more. Is this why the Sunni Saudis have suddenly offered to send ground troops to Syria? And why the Turks are so flustered? I doubt if anyone is weeping in Shia Iran.

Anyway, the Saudi military is already having its feet chewed off in the disgraceful Yemen war. As for the Turks sending their own Nato soldiers across the Syrian border – presumably at risk of being attacked by the Russians – that is a nightmare which both Washington and Moscow must avoid. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in another Gavrilo Princip moment – and we all know what happened in 1914.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why States Still Use Barrel Bombs

Smoke ascends after a Syrian military helicopter allegedly dropped a barrel bomb over the city of Daraya on Jan. 31.(FADI DIRANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary
Barrel bombs are not especially effective weapons. They are often poorly constructed; they fail to detonate more often than other devices constructed for a similar purpose; and their lack of precision means they can have a disproportionate effect on civilian populations.

However, combatants continue to use barrel bombs in conflicts, including in recent and ongoing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, and they are ideally suited to the requirements of resource-poor states.

Analysis


Barrel bombs are improvised devices that contain explosive filling and shrapnel packed into a container, often in a cylindrical shape such as a barrel. The devices continue to be dropped on towns all over Syria. Indeed, there have been several documented cases of their use in Iraq over the past months, and residents of the city of Mosul, which was recently …

Russia Looks East for New Oil Markets

Click to Enlarge


In the final years of the Soviet Union, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began orienting his foreign policy toward Asia in response to a rising Japan. Putin has also piloted a much-touted pivot to Asia, coinciding with renewed U.S. interest in the area. A good expression of intent was Russia's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012 in Vladivostok, near Russia's borders with China and North Korea. Although its efforts in Asia have been limited by more direct interests in Russia's periphery and in Europe, Moscow recently has been able to look more to the east.

Part of this renewed interest involves finding new export markets for Russian hydrocarbons. Russia's economy relies on energy exports, particularly crude oil and natural gas exported via pipeline to the West. However, Western Europe is diversifying its energy sources as new supplies come online out of a desire to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies.

This has forced…

In Yemen, a Rebel Advance Could Topple the Regime

Shia loyal to the al-Houthi movement ride past Yemeni soldiers near Yaz, Yemen, in May. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


The success of a rebel campaign in northern Yemen is threatening to destabilize the already weak and overwhelmed government in Sanaa. After capturing the city of Amran, a mere 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital, in early July, the rebels from the al-Houthi tribe are in their strongest position yet. The Yemeni government is developing plans to divide the country into six federal regions, and the rebels believe this is their chance to claim territory for the future bargaining.

The central government is nearly powerless to fend off the rebels; its forces are already stretched thin. Neighboring Saudi Arabia has intervened in Yemen before and still supports Sunni tribes in the north, but the risk of inciting a Shiite backlash or creating space for jihadists to move in could deter another intervention.

Analysis


Followers of Zaidi Islam, a branch of Shiism, rul…