A momentous dayNovember 28, 2016
This post is again about Syria, which was not at all intended to be a major theme of the blog, but the developments on Sunday, November 27, were so incredible, unexpected, and breathtakingly significant, that they need to be noted, explained, and commented.
The siege of Aleppo will soon be over and what at the moment remains of the eastern Aleppo enclave should rather be called “southeastern Aleppo,” because the Islamist occupiers have lost all northern districts, amounting to more than a third of their territory, in just a few hours. Their defenses have collapsed, they are in disarray and are abandoning one district after the other.
This is not an orderly retreat and a regrouping, the militants are just running for their lives. While they are running south, they try to commit a few more murders by firing at the thousands of civilians who take the adverse direction, streaming into government controlled territory. Syrian soldiers instruct the civilians via cellphones to cross no man’s land one by one, but the frightened and panicking people nonetheless run in groups, giving the Islamist snipers a better chance to get one last lucky shot. There fortunately have been no deaths yet.
Until now Islamic militants blocked the exits (meaning the by Syria and Russia created humanitarian corridors) with sniper and mortar fire, but as they retreated and their vigilance diminished the trickle of refugees swelled to a stream. More than ten thousand civilians have left the remaining Islamist territory to be welcomed by Syrian authorities and be sheltered in preprepared temporary housing — tens of thousands more are expected. About 200 militants have used the humanitarian corridors as well, hoping to be bused to Idlib or to surrender and be reintegrated into Syrian society. It will take a lot of interviews, fact-checking, and screening to determine the status of the surrendering gunmen. Some of them may be truly repenting, others may be irremediable criminals whose future activities need to be monitored and restraint, whatever that entails.
In some respect the scale and intensity of the Syrian offensive was not unexpected, because there were frequent reports in the last weeks about long convoys with new troops arriving in Aleppo city and about the deployment of special forces and commandoes in areas overlooking the eastern neighborhoods. The offensive came not unexpected, yet, the extent and quickness of the Islamists defeat took everybody by surprise.
The northern Aleppo districts which fell in just a few hours are: Hanano (one of the biggest and most densely populated districts, it was the first one captured by the Islamists in 2012), Jabal Badro, Inzarat, Bostan al-Basha, Helok, Ain at-Tal (the later three adjacent to the Kurdish area Sheikh Maqsoud), Ad Hamra, Sheik Fares, Sheik Khidr, Haidariyeh, Sakhur.
The Kurdish YPG/YPJ participated in the offensive against Helok and gained some blocks, A small unit of FSA (Free Syrian Army) fighters in Helok has switched sides and tries to be accepted by the Kurdish dominated SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). This is not militarily significant but it shows that militants are running for the exit, abandoning jihad and trying to safe their very own skin.
Maybe these were indeed the last remnants of the truly secular rebels, but one shouldn’t bet on that because switching sides under pressure is no proof of a different mindset and ideology.
The highway, linking Nayrab International Airport with Aleppo city center, is now the new frontline. There were speculations before that a push along the highway could split eastern Aleppo into two parts but no one expected, that the northern part then would fall in just a few hours.
The military advance will have an immediate impact in all of Aleppo as the Suleiman al-Halaby water pumping station has also been conquered. The militants until now switched off the pumps at will to put pressure on western Aleppo.
In overrun enemy positions the army has seized tons of weapons and ammunition, mainly from the Czech Republic and Poland. This contradicts the assumption that the militants are running out of ammunition.
The map is probably already outdated again when this post is published, but it clearly shows the highway from the airport. Everything north of the highway is captured, which means that the eastern Aleppo pocket in two days has shrunk by 40 percent.
The remarkable victory comes at a price, as dozens of soldiers from the Syrian elite units Tiger Forces, Republican Guard, and the Palestinian Liwa Al-Quds have died. Among the fallen heroes one name stands out: Mohamad Rafaa, chief of Liwa Al-Quds operations in Aleppo. He was beloved, he was a legend, if not for him and his men, in 2013 Nairab Airport would have fallen and with it western Aleppo. One can rightfully say that he has saved more lives in Aleppo than any other military commander. Mohamad’s brother Samer, who was fighting beside him, has been appointed as successor and will continue the mission.
The offensive in Hanano was bloody and could only be maintained by rotating forces, but after that push succeeded Islamist defense lines crumbled, though it was still not a cakewalk. The capture of the Jaish al-Fateh operations room in the north of the Hanano Housing Project was an important step. This operations room had commanded also the battle for the Owaija district and it was the main coordination center of the Islamist militias in Hanano, Haidariyeh, and Sakhor.
A Liwa Al-Quds commander told journalists, that the Islamists in each district had key defense points, which were also the command posts (operation rooms), and when these key defense points fell the districts had to be abandoned, because there was no coordination anymore, there were no clearly defined front lines, and every militant was on his own.
There are speculations that cellphone messages from locals were a factor. A few quick infos about enemy positions and barriers can make a lot of difference. Such help certainly would have avoided pointless destruction while in addition demonstrating the civilians loyalty to the government as it became increasingly clear which way the wind was blowing.
After Ahrar al-Sham withdraw from Sakhur and Haydariya the remaining jihadist groups were too weak to make a stand and the battle for the districts became a mop-up operation.
Intercepted phone calls showed distressed fighters swearing at their comrades who participate in Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” occupation of the Syrian border area (Jarabulus, Azaz, Dabiq, the northern approaches of al-Bab), complaining that they have abandoned them and are safe in the north, protected by the Turkish army. Along such outbursts there have been repeated pleas to restart offensives in Latakia and Hama and accusations that the fighters in Idlib and Hama were abandoning their fellow jihadists in Aleppo.
Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Muhaysini, the Sharia judge and spiritual leader of the Idlib Islamist coalition Jaish al-Fateh, appealed repeatedly to Turkey for intervening militarily to defeat the government troops.
The outlook for the jihadists is grim. This defeat is a shock and a humiliation. They will start to blame each other, the fighters who fled from the north to the south will compete for food and supplies with those who were there already. Weakened by desertions, loss of equipment, and infighting, with winter approaching they would be well advised to take the governments offer of surrender or deportation in the now already well known green buses before Syrian forces set an example and crush them all in a hail of artillery bombardment and air strikes.
It is not clear if Syrian troops will pause at the highway from Nayrab International Airport to Aleppo city center, which is now the new frontline. They could as well push further south before the Islamists are able to consolidate and entrench themselves at the new line of control. Reserves to do that are probably available and the Islamists are demoralized and desperate.
Though Monday, November 28 is comparatively quiet after the blitz in the two preceding days, the army indeed seems to turn its attention to Tareeq al-Bab north-west of the airport and to the Ma’saraniyah youth housing, which is witnessing shelling and clashes. Some units have also crossed the highway at Jabal Badro, capturing Talet Barakat, the scientific research center plus housing area at the south of Tal Badro, and entering the al-Hilwaniyah district.
A major build-up of Hezbollah and Harakat Al-Nujaba forces in southern Aleppo could mean that the offensive in the north will be mirrored by an equally massive attack in the south. It will be either that or a push against Khan Touman, al-Hadher, and al-Eis. Or both.
The Islamists are demoralized and desperate, and Western media workers are desperate as well, experimenting with various kinds of spin in the hope to find a storyline which doesn’t contradict and damage the Western propaganda narrative too much. That the Russian air force was not at all involved in this offensive will frustrate and disturb the pundits and commentators efforts even more. Or it will be ignored — most articles still maintain that Russia is constantly bombing Aleppo.
Ominous, gloomy, and misleading headlines are spewed out:
“Thousands uprooted in east Aleppo as Syrian army advances,” writes Reuters. Of course, people are not fleeing from Islamist areas where they were used as human shields, they are “uprooted” by the government offensive.
This particular article includes a gem,which has to be noticed: “...He was waiting with his wife, mother and three children at a minibus stop, hoping to travel on to government-held west Aleppo. He said Hanano had contained about 200 — 300 families, but they had come and gone throughout the war depending on the intensity of strikes.”
If Hanano, one of the largest districts in the city, houses only 300 families, where could the 200,000 to 300,000 besieged civilians, about which the UN worries, be? Is this number reliable and on what evidence is it based? Doesn’t this number mean that Syria just freed one hundred thousand civilians who were held hostage by the Islamists?
The New York Times writes, that “Syrians in Besieged Aleppo Flee Government Forces’ Advance.”
Business Insider writes: ‘Massacre after massacre’: It’s ‘only a matter of time’ before east Aleppo falls.
Al Jazeera titles the same article: How much longer can east Aleppo hold out?
Michael Horowitz writes in the International Business Times: Russia buried the Arab Spring in Aleppo — but Syria is just the beginning for Vladimir Putin.
The German newspaper Zeit tries to top the Anglo-American propaganda with these main points of its Aleppo reporting: There will be no eastern Aleppo anymore / 250 thousand people are getting bombed all the time / Assad doesn’t agree to ceasefires.
The Conversation: Obama’s legacy will be forever tarnished by his inaction in Syria.
Britain-based Rami Abdel Rahman, also known as SOHR (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), tries to explain the exodus of civilians from Islamist controlled areas: “These people are moving for food. They’re not changing alliances, they’re just starving.”
Professional manipulators of comment sections (also called “trolls,” or “shills”) disperse their poison frantically:
“Once Aleppo has been bombed to rubble and most of the civilian population dead or decimated, it will give the Russians the upper hand to maintain the butcher Assad and their naval base.”
“The Russians support Assad…a butcher who with their help has bombed schools, hospitals, and UN humanitarian aid trucks. He has barrel-bombed civilians for years now, slaughtering his own countrymen.”
British Members of Parliament demand instant aid drops to eastern Aleppo, and write:
“This is now the epicenter of the crisis. The Assad and Putin regimes are moving to ‘exterminate’ all those who have not already been killed as a consequence of their indiscriminate bombing campaigns.”
“In the last 10 days all hospitals there, including the last children’s hospital, have been bombed out of operation. Centers belonging to the heroic volunteers of the White Helmets have also been destroyed. The last aid delivery was three months ago and medical workers estimate we have less than two weeks before all food runs out.”
“With our Royal Air Force already operational in the air over Syria, we are calling on you to urgently authorize the air-dropping of aid to besieged populations. It is simply not acceptable that during the biggest aid operation in the UN’s history, and in the full glare of the world’s media, nearly 100,000 children are facing the slowest, cruelest death because we cannot reach them with food and medical supplies.”
Gareth Bayley, the UK’s special representative for Syria, tweeted: “With no food going in and people unable to escape, Assad regime is trying to turn E Aleppo into a coffin.”
One has to brace for another deluge of reports about starving children, bloodstained bodies, and crying women. The demonization campaign against Syria, Russia, Iran will reach a fever pitch. Important details, like the fact that Egypt just joined the Syrian resistance and intends to send soldiers and airplanes, will be ignored. That dwindling numbers of Syrians live in Islamist controlled areas will be ignored. Islamist atrocities will be ignored or blamed on the government.
That a government can hold firm for six long years against a general popular revolt supported by USA/NATO, Turkey, the Gulf states, constantly supplied with advanced weapons and logistics, reinforced by mercenary armies invading from Turkey and Jordan, is not plausible. This implausibility will be ignored.
The few reports in-between (Robert Fisk), who tell that the Syrian conflict is not a popular revolt or a civil war but an invasion and a war of aggression, will be discredited as “fake news.”
But Western propaganda doesn’t matter much at this stage. Sunday, November 27, could be the day where the Syrian war was decided, where the imperial plans were foiled, and the geopolitical chessboard was rearranged in a way no one would have believed to be possible just one year ago.
And, before I forget a personal note:
Life is short and days are precious, let us rise about doom and gloom, let us indulge for a few innocent moments in joyous exuberance, let us celebrate the victories, and gain new hope.
Syrian forces have captured the southern Sheikh Saeed district and the Sadcop Fuel depot. Troops are further advancing inside al-Amiriyah and as-Sukkari neighborhoods northwest of Sheikh Saeed. Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki claims that many positions were recaptured in a counteroffensive and huge losses inflicted on the government troops. The Islamist friendly SORH (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) says that only half Sheikh Saeed has fallen.
Syrian Army advances in Karam al-Tarab west of Airport. The army captured Masaraniyah’s Youth Housing (south of the airport highway), But the Islamists try to regain it in a massive counterattack.
Russia reports that Aleppo’s entire male population in the remaining pocket is forcibly mobilized by the Islamists. A counter offensive by Jaish al-Fateh from the surrounding Aleppo countryside is rumored and there are increased air raids on Islamist positions west of Aleppo.
Air strikes on Bab al-Nayrab indicate that the army plans to attack this district next from Tal al-Shertah (Police Station Hill, or Hill 400) in the east and push through to the citadel to cut the pocket in half again. Old Aleppo could be the last stand of the Islamists, because the government does not want to destroy this historical area.
At least 40,000+ civilians fled eastern Aleppo in the last days and more than 700 Islamists surrendered.
There are reports that as a result of Russian-Turkish talks a temporary ceasefire will be announced to allow civilians to leave eastern Aleppo’