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Siege Warfare

November 21, 2016

The siege of eastern Aleppo is covered in all media channels and portrait as the latest proof of the exceptional brutality and bloodlust of the Syrian regime. The average media consumer inevitably gets the impression that this siege is something exceptional, thereby being mislead and misinformed again, because sieges are not rare and isolated incidents. Siege warfare is common in military conflicts and often decides about victory or defeat — Stalingrad, Sevastopol, Dien Bien Phu are grim examples.

The siege of Leningrad in WorldWar II was the most gruesome siege in human history with more than one million civilians and between one and two million Russian soldiers killed. Some historians estimate the total casualties to have exceeded four million.

The sieges in the Middle East have not yet reached this dimension of horror, but in cities controlled by IS (Islamic State), the USA has employed some of the same tactics it now condemns. For example, US-backed SDF forces laid siege to Manbij, a city in northern Syria not far from Aleppo that is home to about 60,000 people. US airstrikes pounded the city over the summer, killing more than 200 civilians, 120 of them in a single attack. Before that the US used the same strategy to drive IS out of Ramadi, Tikrit, and Fallujah, leaving behind flattened neighborhoods. In Fallujah, residents resorted to eating soup made from grass and 140 people reportedly died from lack of food and medicine during the siege.

The level of destruction lately seen in Fallujah and Ramadi is much worse than anything currently happening in Aleppo. These cities were bombed relentlessly by US and Iraqi airplanes, even though civilians were trapped inside. Iraqi ground units only moved in as mopping up forces after the places were turned to piles of rubble by US-coalition airstrikes and Iraqi artillery bombardments. Hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, most of them woman, children, elderly, died in collapsed buildings. The exact number of casualties will never be known, because the destroyed neighborhoods are bulldozed, similar to what happens after the most deadly earthquakes (Valdevia, Tangshan, Sichuan, Kashmir, Rudbar, Izmit).

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Right now a 100,000-strong alliance of Iraqi forces, with air and ground support from the US-led coalition, has surrounded Mosul but so far only breached the jihadists’ defenses from the eastern side, establishing a small foothold inside the city.

The IS-militants are dug in among more than a million civilians as a defense tactic to hamper air strikes. They are moving around the city districts through tunnels, driving suicide car bombs into advancing troops and hitting them with sniper and ATGM (anti-tank-guided-missile) fire.

UN-officials have voiced concern about the mounting civilian death toll and warned, that the rising numbers of injured are overwhelming the capacity of the government and international aid groups.

In a discussion about sieges one also needs to include sanctions and embargoes, like the ones imposed by the USA, EU, Israel, the Gulf states on poor countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Syria, Yemen, the Gaza Stripe. These sanctions and embargoes are nothing else than a veiled form of siege warfare, never benefitting anybody, never achieving any positive change, always hurting the poorest and most vulnerable people. 

Sieges in Syria

One of the first sieges in Syria happened in Harem, a Sunni town in Idlib on the border to Turkey. In 2011 FSA (Free Syrian Army) groups from nearby villages and towns started kidnaping Harem locals for ransom and seizing houses and land in order to start lucrative contraband smuggling with Turkey. By the end of 2011, as the unrest in Syria descended into a full scale war including an invasion of jihadists via Turkey and Jordan, the population formed self-defense militias, called “popular defense committees,” analogue to similar militias that emerged in Damascus, Homs, and other assaulted towns at the time (eventually all of the self-defense groups were reformed into the NDF).

The militias fought back against the intruders, inflicting heavy losses to the FSA gangs. By the summer of 2012, half of the prominent FSA supporting clans in Idlib had lost men in Harem, and a blood feud was declared on effectively the entire town. The FSA surrounded the town and enforced a siege, inflicting tremendous costs on the civilian population and the pro-government fighters. The locals beat back dozens of attacks and broke the siege a few times, allowing food to be smuggled in and civilians to be evacuated, but by the winter of 2012 they run out of ammunitions and retreated to the Harem castle. In December 2012 the castle was finally stormed and the surviving defenders were executed. The remaining locals were massacred after a “Sharia court” trial.

The defenders will be remembered as heroes. They held out against ruthless and well armed FSA gangs which were constantly reinforced and supplied from nearby Turkey. Since the original population of 21,000 people has been either displaced or killed, the town is now populated by the families of leading Mujahideen clans and foreign jihadis.

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The Shia towns Nubl and Al-Zahraa with 40,000 inhabitants were the last government-held towns north of Aleppo after Islamists seized most of the northern countryside in July 2012. The siege brought considerable hardship to the population though the area was not complete cut off and limited amounts of food and essential goods were brought in from the Kurdish canton Afrin in the north.

The siege was broken in February 2016 as a result of a sweeping Syrian government offensive which also cut the last northern Islamist supply route from Turkey to Aleppo city and thereby laid the ground for the encirclement of Aleppo. Yet, the Army of Conquest (a coalition of Islamist groups in Idlib lead by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) still regularly targets Nubl and Zahraa with Grad rockets and artillery.

The Shia towns al-Fu’ah and Kafriya, with 20,000 residents and also in Idlib province, have been besieged from March 2015 on. The Shia enclave is constantly bombarded with shells and rockets, while suicide bombers drive explosive-laden cars (SVBIEDs = suicide-vehicle-born-improvised-explosive-devices) against the defenders lines. Alone in the battle of September 18, 2015, an estimated 26 SVBIEDs were deployed.

In January this year, the Red Cross and the World Food Program organized an aid convoy to deliver food, medicine, and some essentials of daily life to Fu’ah and Kefriya, and since then a few other shipments of food and medicines have been allowed in exchange for aid deliveries to surrounded Islamist held areas. Despite several humanitarian convoys entering the Shia enclave, people are still suffering, there is a lack of basic medical care, vaccines, and food, while Islamists continue to bombard the towns, causing daily casualties.

The Abu al-Duhur Airbase in Idlib was surrounded since September 2012 and overrun by Islamists in September 2015. During the siege three fighter jets were downed above the base, an Antonov An-26 cargo plane and a helicopter were shot down while trying to bring in support. In the final assault about 120 Syrian soldiers were captured by the Islamists and promptly executed.

The relief of the besieged Kuweires air base last year after an astonishing three and a half years hold-out is another tale of heroism. Ending this siege was also a major symbolic blow against IS (Islamic State) in Syria. For the first two years of the siege, helicopters could still land under fire in the base, but then flights became too dangerous and the defenders relied on air drops for essential supplies. Of the initially 1,100 strong garrison only 300 soldiers survived.

IS selfie 2

In all the sieges by Islamists no truce is negotiated and no safe exit allowed, it is just a fight to the death. This is the reason why many Syrians are against government amnesties, truces, and ceasefire deals. It is seen as a betrayal of the memory of those loyalists who died defending the assaulted towns, while their murderers get a safe exit or even an amnesty if they give up fighting.

Nearly every week another rebel enclave around Damascus surrenders, the last one is Khan al-Shih southwest of Damascus. According to the capitulation agreement, weapons and maps with locations of IEDs will be given to the Syrian army, while some 1,200 Islamists will go to Idlib, just like their fellow militants in Daraya, Mouadamiyah, al-Hameh, and Qudsayah. 

This one sided and never recognized, applauded, or rewarded leniency has its logic though, and the Islamic fighters who are transported to Idlib at the governments expense in the now already familiar (and proverbial) green buses will enjoy their new environment only for a short time. After Aleppo city is liberated, Syrian troops will attack Idlib from both the west (Jisr al-Shugur) and east (Abu al-Duhur), an offensive in early 2017 is very likely.

When Idlib fell to the Islamists, a decent number of public employees stayed and continued in their jobs, but salaries and electricity provisions eventually dried up. Basic services like water and education are not working anymore because water pumps went out of commission and teachers, mostly government supporters, have fled.

The Islamists tried to organize civilian life by forming joint councils who administer the communities through a combination of inherited municipal regulations and Sharia law. Western governments chipped in by donating food, medical supplies, and paying aid workers, but after more than one year of insecurity, crime, and armed men roaming the country side, the new rulers have yet to organize a universally respected and accepted police force. Frequent clashes between rivaling groups with heavy casualties among both fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire have further damaged the jihadists image. 

Influential Saudi Sheikh Abdullah Muhaysini already lamented the loss of public support: “Idlib is tired of the rebels and their infighting, and people are starting to doubt the Syrian Jihad.”

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When the offensive against Idlib progresses and it comes to the last stand, the militants will use every trick in the book to provoke a direct foreign invasion, especially by causing as much bloodshed as possible, indiscriminately killing civilians and Syrian soldiers alike. Quit a few jihadists will fight to the death or will blow themselves up in suicide missions, but others will try to slip back into Turkey, ending in refugee camps and adding to the steadily growing opaque Salafi jihadist network in the country. They will further destabilize Turkish society. Erdogan may finally realize that he has made a pact with the devil but it will be too late — the returning jihadis will be his “Syrian curse” and maybe his downfall.

The European countries who wholeheartedly supported the psychopathic criminals and religious fanatics, euphemistically called “moderate rebels,” will be cursed too. There will be “blowback,” there will be more terror bombings and mass shootings than anyone could imagine.

Will this be a kind of justice? No, because it will hit the ones who are the least guilty.

In a few years Western newspapers will write about Assad’s sinister plot to destroy Turkey by pardoning the Islamic terrorists and letting them escape back to where they did come from. They also will write that all the terror trouble in Europe could have been avoided if Obama only would have invaded and occupied Syria in 2013, to deal with Assad like Bush dealt with Saddam Hussein.

Siege of Aleppo

Aleppo, once the economic center of Syria, never was on the rebel’s side. Islamist groups from the rural areas and from other regions, supported by foreign militants, invaded and captured much of it in 2012, besieging the western parts until the siege was lifted in October 2013. Since then the government troops step by step encircled eastern Aleppo, cutting Castello road, the last supply line of the Islamists, in July this year.

Two major offensives to lift the siege have failed since then, causing severe losses to all waring parties, but significantly more on the insurgents side.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 people are said to live in the eastern districts, but this are completely unrealistic numbers, “fake news,” as it is called now. The few journalists who personally visited Aleppo estimate that not more than 30,000 people remain in the rebel held districts, many of them family members of the fighters, which is also the reason why they are not leaving.

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The siege of Aleppo, lasting just for four month, has hardly begun, and it is not tight. There are crossings between the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsood where local trade is going on and there is lot of smuggling via small roads and pathways. The Syrian authorities don’t want to reign in and alienate the Kurds and they have not enough personal to close or control every small road.

Aleppans are not starving and it would take another few month to make the siege bite and have an effect on the Islamic occupiers. But it will not come to that because the Islamists are constantly targeting western districts with mortars, “hell canons,” Grad missiles, and any other kind of artillery. Just now the Law college and the Al-Basel Heart Hospital, the University, and two schools in the Shahba and Al-Furqan neighborhoods were hit. Dozens of students and teachers died. Every day civilians die, the majority being women, children, elderly.

This has to end, and the army command made the decision to take eastern Aleppo by force. At least six offers of amnesty and free exit for fighters and their families to insurgent controlled areas were made, the last one on October 6. Humanitarian corridors were set up, Red Cross officials were ready to facilitate, but the green buses waited in vain. These were fair and courteous offers but the jihadists rejected them and didn’t even attempt to negotiate.

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Click onto the map to see it in high definition

After a three week pause of air strikes where the government via leaflets and SMS-messages appealed to the Islamist occupiers of the eastern Aleppo districts to let civilians leave the combat zones, an offensive to expel them has begun. Syrian elite units are advancing in several fronts (Hanano/Tal Zuhur, Jabal Bodro, Sheikh Sa’ed, Bustan al-Basha) with support of artillery and air strikes, but until now there is no major breakthrough. The offensive is called “dawn of victory,” which implies that this is the make or break push to drive the Islamists out.

UN-officials try to rescue the Islamists by proposing autonomy for eastern Aleppo. The Syrian government understandably rejects the plan, no government in the world would agree to such a deal.

Media warfare

Western media have again taken the side of the Islamist insurgents, decrying the brutality of Syrian forces and calling for “international action,” whatever that would mean. Until now nobody has made any proposals how a more gentle and peaceful way of removing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (al-Qaeda) and their fellow Salafi jihadists from Aleppo could look like.

Of course, from a Western point of view, the Islamic crazies should stay in Aleppo or at least in Syria, because otherwise they could get the idea of moving to the countries who at the moment so kindly encourage and support them.

The last remaining hospital in Aleppo reportedly has been destroyed again and Syrian war news junkies are debating if it was the third, fourth, of fifth time. This muss be a very robust building to survive that many destructions. The White Helmets, a Western funded support organization of Islamist groups, is flooding TV-screens and social media sites with HD-movies and pictures of wounded and dead children, often recycling old material.

Aleppo is also out of bodybags, according to Sky News, and one commentator sarcastically coined the ultimate Aleppo headline: “Aleppo’s last bodybag destroyed under the rubble of its last hospital, says city’s last remaining pediatrician.”

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While the falsehood, hypocrisy, the double standards, and the obvious propaganda purpose of Western media Aleppo coverage can only be adequately commented with irony, ridicule, and deep contempt, the event itself needs a sober and clear-headed approach. People are dying, the survivors are suffering terribly, this cannot be a cause for irony and ridicule.

Jihadist fighters die, Syrian soldiers die, civilians caught in the crossfire die too. Civilians die from shelling by both sides, they die from air strikes, they die when they try to cross the front lines or when they protest against the Islamists. A few days ago 27 people were killed in the streets of eastern Aleppo as the Islamists machine gunned a protest march.

No Western media channel reported this particular incident, and no commentator honored Syrian and Russian efforts to evacuate civilians via safe corridors. Such evacuations, it was said, would be forced evictions, ethnic cleansing, genocide.

The civilians in eastern Aleppo are the last trump card of the Islamists, deterring the use of thermobaric weapons, rocket artillery barrages, and carpet bombing. They are human shields, without them Syria and Russia would just make short process and flatten the insurgents positions to bulldoze the rubble together with the remains of the enemy fighters. Which sounds terrible and inhuman but is a military tactic used in many wars and especially by NATO powers.

The USA used it during the occupation of Iraq in Falluja. Iraq used it in Ramadi and Falluja again, Saudi Arabia uses it in Yemen, NATO used it in Libya to destroy Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte. The level of destruction seen in Fallujah, Ramadi, Sirte is much worse than anything currently happening in Aleppo.

There may be worse places than Aleppo but it is bad enough. Nobody in her/his right mind would like to be there. It is horror, cataclysm, apocalypse, it is the end of the world. Why do the warriors not just sit together and talk it over, trying to find a way to end injustices and shortcomings and make life better for everyone?

A rhetorical question, as one cannot argue with religious fanatics and psychopathic criminals.

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One concluding thought:

Many did hide, ran away, fled to faraway countries.

They deserve sympathy and understanding.

The defenders of Syria decided to stay and fight.

They deserve the greatest respect and admiration!

2 comments

  1. […] For the critical thinking cat lover « Siege Warfare […]


  2. […] momentous day Siege Warfare An alternative view about Aleppo, […]



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