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War of Attrition: Understanding the Battle of Aleppo

The Syrian army’s incremental approach to the siege of eastern Aleppo – cutting off the Jihadi fighters from the countryside and building up a comprehensive intelligence picture of their dispositions – is what lies behind their sudden collapse.

Alexander Mercouris

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Latest reports from Aleppo confirm that whatever talks are underway between the Jihadis and the Russians in Ankara, they are having no effect on the fighting in the city.

Yesterday the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo once again reaffirmed their intention to go on fighting.  They also announced that they had agreed a new command structure bringing together all the Jihadi factions in eastern Aleppo. 

Since the Jihadis have already had a unified command structure in the city – one moreover dominated by Al-Qaeda – it is not clear whether this is simply an exercise in public relations – possibly intended to restore morale amongst the Jihadi fighters in the city – or whether it is a genuine reorganisation provoked by the loss of 40% of the Jihadi controlled districts of eastern Aleppo over the course of the week, which must have caused a sharp fall in confidence on the part of the Jihadis in their commanders.  On balance it is more likely to be the first.

The Jihadis also launched a counterattack over the course of yesterday, which appears to have briefly recovered some ground, though the very latest reports suggest they have again been driven back.

This counterattack also looks more like an attempt to restore morale amongst the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo rather than being a serious attempt to reverse the situation there.  Al-Qaeda’s commanders surely know that reversing their losses of the last few days is simply beyond their power.

The priority of the Syrian military command in Aleppo will be to consolidate its sudden gains of this week.  Already there are reports of civilians returning to the Masaken Hanano district, which was recaptured from the Jihadis at the beginning of the week, and of schools reopening there. 

Only once the newly recaptured districts of eastern Aleppo have been fully secured will the Syrian army resume its attack on the rest of the Jihadi held pocket.  Given the extent to which it has now been reduced in size, and its isolation from the rest of the country, it is debatable how defendable it now is, and for how long it can hold out when the Syrian army resumes its advance.

The ebb and flow of the fighting in Aleppo has been the source of much confusion, with the widespread belief that the repeated ceasefires and humanitarian pauses have worked to the advantage of the Jihadis by giving them time to reorganise and re-equip, whilst breaking the momentum of the advances of the Syrian army.

Whilst there is some truth to this, the Syrian army’s lack of a decisive manpower advantage and logistical constraints means that that there has almost certainly been no real alternative but to take this incremental approach, with the Syrian army also needing pauses – like the one underway now – so as to reorganise and re-equip before it can undertake further advances. 

As more and more of the countryside around Aleppo has been brought under the Syrian army’s control – causing the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo to become increasingly isolated – it has become clear that the incremental ‘stop-go’ approach has worked more to the advantage of the Syrian army than to the advantage of the Jihadis.

As has been mentioned on some of the threads to my previous articles, this incremental ‘stop-go’ approach has also made it possible for Russian and Syrian intelligence to acquire an exceptionally detailed picture of the number of Jihadis in eastern Aleppo,  of their command structure and  equipment, and of the location of their bases,supply stations, workshops and strong points.  Indeed the Russians have actually admitted as much, saying that they have an almost complete picture of the situation in eastern Aleppo.

Some of this information has undoubtedly been obtained by human informers or spies – with the civilian population of eastern Aleppo almost certainly playing a much bigger role in this than infiltrators – but the decisive role in this information gathering will have been played by electronic tools – ie. by drones and signals intelligence. 

It is a virtual certainty that the Russians are able to listen to all Jihadi radio and telephone communications – including those which use landlines – and that they have broken all the Jihadis’ codes, and by using drones (some of which are barely visible to the human eye) they are able to check the information they obtain in this way.

At least as important in obtaining information is analysing it properly.  The Russians have some of the best military intelligence analysts in the world, but again it will have taken them several months to process and analyse all the intelligence they have received in order to build up a comprehensive picture of the situation in the city.

In summary, it is precisely because the Syrians and the Russians have taken an incremental approach to the battle of Aleppo that they now stand so close to success, and have moreover managed to achieve it at what seems to be an acceptable cost. 

By contrast a rushed attempt in the spring or early summer to storm the Jihadi held eastern districts of the city before they had become fully isolated from the surrounding countryside and without a proper intelligence picture of the Jihadi forces there would have courted disaster.

Before completing this summary of the current situation in Aleppo, I will touch on a question one of our readers – Simon – on one of our threads

“A genuine question for The Duran analysts and its forum;

The Syrian Govt offer amnesty or evacuation to jihadi terrorists (of Syrian citizenship). Some disagree but I am not questioning that – rather the evacuation option is always and ONLY to Idlib Province.

So has Syria effectively abandoned Idlib ? There are reports that there were jihadi extremists and trouble there many years before the war kicked off in 2011. Is the choice of Idlib just a temporary dumping ground borne by necessity or something more significant long term?”

The answer to this question is that the Syrian government has made it clear that it intends to recapture every inch of Syrian territory, and that of course includes Idlib.  In no sense has it abandoned Idlib. 

Whilst it is true that Idlib – or rather the rural areas around it – are often said to have been penetrated by Wahhabi infiltrators and Wahhabi ideas before the start of the 2011 uprising, Idlib itself was only captured by the Jihadis – after repeated failed attempts – in March 2015, and one should be careful before assuming that most of its people support the Jihadis.  Our contributor Afra’a Dagher, who is Syrian and who writes from Syria, absolutely denies that this is the case.

Idlib and Raqqa are however the two provincial capitals in Syria which are under Jihadi control.  Al-Qaeda controls Idlib and ISIS controls Raqqa.  Since most of the Jihadi fighters in western Syria owe allegiance to Al-Qaeda rather than ISIS, it makes sense when negotiating their surrender in other districts which Al-Qaeda controls to agree for them be evacuated to Idlib.

Though Idlib is an important provincial centre which the Syrian government obviously eventually wants to recapture, it is far less important to the Syrian government than those areas of Syria which make up Syria’s heartland – the countryside Damascus and the countryside around it, the towns of Homs and Hama, Latakia province, and Aleppo – control of which for the Syrian government is an existential issue.  If the price of recovering control of these areas is to let the Jihadi fighters retreat temporarily to Idlib, then it is a price the Syrian government is willing to pay. 

Once the Syrian heartland is fully secured, the Syrian army and security forces can deal with these Jihadi fighters in Idlib at leisure.

Having said all this, it is far from certain that all the Jihadi fighters evacuated to Idlib from the rest of Syria are all actually still there.  It is likely that Al-Qaeda sent many of them to fight and die over in last summer’s and autumn’s counter-offensives aimed at breaking the Syrian army’s siege of eastern Aleppo.  Jihadi casualties in that fighting are known to have been very high, and it is likely that many Jihadi fighters evacuated to Idlib from elsewhere in Syria met their deaths there. 

Back on 17th August 2016 I explained how by becoming a battle of attrition the fighting in Aleppo was working to the long benefit of the Syrian government

“This is not a stalemate.  It is a battle of attrition.  Though the fighting in southwestern Aleppo is very intense with only very small movements achieved by either side in the last 2 weeks, in a battle of attrition such as this is it is the rebels who are losing….In a battle of this sort the only chance the rebels would have had of victory would have been if they had achieved it quickly and decisively. ….The one thing the rebels cannot afford is to suffer heavy losses by battering themselves to pieces at the gates of Aleppo.  With their advance stalled on the outskirts of Aleppo that however is precisely the prospect the rebels are now facing.”

It is precisely because the Jihadis chose to get bogged down in a battle of attrition in Aleppo that they could not afford and which they have now lost that their position not just in Aleppo but elsewhere in western Syria is now collapsing.  I suspect the same will also prove to be true in Idlib when the Syrian army eventually attacks it.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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