Reports from Aleppo confirm that the Al-Qaeda Jihadi counter-offensive to break the siege of the Jihadi held eastern districts of Aleppo has for the moment at least failed.
The Syrian army has recaptured all the points captured by the Al-Qaeda Jihadis in the first two days of their counter-offensive.
Reports also agree that the Jihadis have suffered heavy losses, though there is as usual wide disagreement about the extent of these losses.
The Syrian army has achieved this victory without the intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which have played no part in this fighting. If Vladimir Putin refused the Russian General Staff’s request to resume bombing in Aleppo because he was confident that the Syrian army would win by itself, then events have proved him right.
It is possible that after pulling back Al-Qaeda will try again, and will launch yet another counter-offensive to break the siege of the city. However for the moment this Jihadi counter-offensive looks to have not merely failed but to have been a lot less effective than the previous Jihadi counter-offensive, which was launched at the end of July.
That counter-offensive, though it eventually failed, did succeed for a time in punching a hole through the Syrian army’s lines. It took the Syrian army several weeks of intense fighting, and heavy bombing by the Russian Aerospace Forces, before the hole was closed and the Jihadis were finally driven back.
Whilst it is very difficult through the fog of war to know why things were so different this time, it is possible to guess, and two factors appear to have been in play.
The Jihadi counter-offensive in July was launched literally days after the end of a Syrian army offensive in the northern part of the city which captured the previously Jihadi held Castello road.
This meant that when the Jihadis launched their counteroffensive against the Ramousseh district in the south west of the city in July, the Syrian army’s best units in the city were still concentrated in the north of the city, along the Castello road, away from the centre of the fighting in the south west.
This time the Syrian army has had 3 months to consolidate its positions in the city, including both in the city’s suburbs in the north and in the south west.
Indeed the Syrian army spent much of the time following the defeat of last summer’s Jihadi counter-offensive capturing hill positions to the south west of the city, in what appears to have been a successful attempt to strengthen its defences in the area in preparation for the second Jihadi counter-offensive it obviously knew was going to come.
If the Syrian army in Aleppo appears to be stronger than it was in July and August, the Jihadis may have grown weaker.
Whilst it is not known how many Jihadis were involved in the latest counter-offensive (the highest estimate puts the number at 16,000), the best estimate is that the number was around 3,000. If so that would be significantly below the 10,000 Jihadis who are supposed to have taken part in the counter-offensive in July and August.
Heavy Jihadi losses appear to be taking their toll, and Al-Qaeda and the other Jihadi groups may be struggling to replace them.
According to the CIA, 2,000 armed Jihadis were crossing the border from Turkey into Syria every month during the peak period of the war in 2014 and 2015, in January of this year, following the arrival of the Russian Aerospace Forces, that number fell to 200 a month, and it has probably fallen further since.
The belief in the unlimited number of fanatical Jihadis that Al-Qaeda and other Jihadi groups in Syria can call upon was always something of a myth, and it looks like the pool may now be running dry.
Meanwhile, according to the Iranian news agency Fars, there are already bitter recriminations underway between the Jihadis over the failure of their latest counter-offensive in Aleppo, with the blame for the debacle being placed on Saudi cleric Dr Abdullah al-Muhaysini, the nominal leader of the so-called “Army of Conquest”, the Jihadi umbrella group behind which Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra operates.
Apparently al-Muhaysini is being criticised for his “totally wrong strategy” and for his “naive plans” which have “sent hundreds of fighters to meet their death”.
Fars even reports social media comments by Jihadi supporters complaining that
“….. al-Muhaysini has sent the foreign members of the militant groups to the Aleppo battlefield to get rid of them.”
Meanwhile reports confirm that Colonel Suheil al-Hassan, the semi-legendary commander of the Syrian army’s elite Tiger Forces, is now in the city with his troops, who are supposedly equipped with advanced Russian T90 tanks, and who include a group of commandos of the Syrian army’s Desert Hawks Special Forces Brigade.
There are also reports that the Russian fleet, which includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the nuclear powered missile battle cruiser Pyotr Veliky, has now reached the north African coast, and that it has been joined by two Shchuka-B (“Akula”) class nuclear powered submarines equipped with cruise missiles, and that it is about to enter the Mediterranean.
It seems that just as the Jihadi counter-offensive in Aleppo has been defeated, Syrian and Russian forces possibly earmarked for the operation to storm the Jihadi held eastern districts of the city are gathering.