There are growing signs that what looks like a big Syrian government offensive in Aleppo is in the works.
The Syrian army has been broadcasting messages to the trapped Jihadis in eastern Aleppo via loudspeakers all day giving them just 24 hours to lay down their arms.
There are also reports of more elite Syrian troops from the Tiger forces and the Desert Hawks Special Forces units being concentrated in Aleppo. They are apparently being reinforced by well trained Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.
There is also an indeterminate number of Shiite militia fighters brought to the area of Aleppo from Iraq, though it seems that they are being given secondary support roles, and that most of the fighting on the front line will be carried out by the Syrian army.
In addition there are also reports of Russian and Iranian staff officers arriving in the city to help coordinate the fighting.
Meanwhile the captains of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the nuclear powered missile battle cruiser Pyotr Veliky have both been talking to the Russian media.
Sergey Artamonov, the Admiral Kuznetsov’s captain, is reported to have confirmed that aircraft from the carrier have been flying over Syria for four days. He described the reason for their flights as follows
“The flights are performed from the deck of the aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser. Interaction with a coastal airfield is being worked out.”
The “coastal airfield” is clearly Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria’s Latakia province, which is the air base the Russians mainly use for the strikes they carry out in Syria.
The Russians do not have any experience of carrying out air strikes on ground targets from aircraft carriers, or of coordinating such strikes with ground bases. It seems that they have been using the last four days to work out systems of coordination between the two separate services involved (the Russian Aerospace Forces in Khmeimim and Russian Naval Aviation on board the Admiral Kuznetsov) and to iron out any resulting communications and coordination problems before they go jointly into action.
Recently I said that one of the major reasons for involving the Admiral Kuznetsov in the operation was to give the Russians training and experience in carrier based ground strikes, something which they have never done before. Captain Artamonov’s words appear to bear this out.
Meanwhile Pyotr Veliky’s captain, Captain Vladislav Malakhovsky, has also been speaking to the Russian media. He is reported as saying the following
“Nobody is flying above us. Everybody is afraid of approaching us closer than 50 kilometers, understanding the might of the cruisers (Pyotr Veliky and Admiral Kuznetsov)”.
These words appear to confirm that the primary mission of the Pyotr Veliky battlecruiser is – as the Saker recently correctly said – to provide the fleet air defence with its formidable S-300 anti aircraft missile battery. From what Captain Makakhovsky is saying, it is succeeding.
The fact that the Russian Defence Ministry has authorised the captains of the two most powerful warships in the Russian fleet to speak to the media is perhaps the single strongest indicator that a big attack is coming.
Another even stronger indicator that such a big attack is indeed coming is that there are reports that Russia’s heaviest bombers – its TU160 supersonic and its TU95 subsonic bombers – are being loaded with cruise missiles in preparation for a major strike.
The main focus of the coming attack seems to be the Al-Qaeda controlled town of Khan Tuman near Aleppo, which following its capture by Jihadi fighters in May has become the main base for the Al-Qaeda led Jihadi offensives against south west Aleppo.
However the fact that the Syrian military is calling on the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo to surrender as well may be a sign that the Syrian army is planning to launch an attack on them there as well.