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SYRIA: Al-Qaeda launches ‘do or die’ attempt to break siege of eastern Aleppo

Iraqi forces keep position during clashes with jihadists from the Islamic State group in the eastern suburbs of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, 120 kilometers west of Baghdad, on February 1, 2016. Iraqi forces declared victory in December in the Ramadi battle after wresting back control of the city's central government complex from the Islamic State group. Some jihadist fighters have yet to be flushed out, mostly on the eastern edge of the city, and many reconquered areas have yet to be fully cleared of roadside bombs and booby traps. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Having nursed their wounds following their defeat of a few days ago, the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis today attacked western Aleppo again.

As  is always the case with the fighting in Syria, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on.  However this appears to be a major attack, with more Jihadis brought in from other fronts to replace the earlier losses, and with the Jihadis making their usual use of their now traditional tactic of hurling explosive laden trucks driven by suicide bombers at the Syrian army defenders (this tactic is actually of diminishing value since the Syrian troops have become practised at destroying these trucks before they reach their targets).

The attack – as with all the other Jihadi attacks on Aleppo – also involves shelling of the residential areas of western Aleppo, often with notoriously indiscriminate unguided rockets.  An RT team led by the intrepid Murat Gazdiev was caught in the crossfire.  Here is their report:

The Syrians, the Russians and the Iranians, have steadily upgraded the number of Jihadi fighters they say are involved in operations in western Aleppo.

Whereas just a few days ago their most commonly cited figure was 3,000 they have now raised it dramatically to 16,000, which would be by far the biggest concentration of Jihadi fighters during the whole war, exceeding even the number involved in the Jihadi offensive of last summer.

Regardless of the precise number of Jihadi fighters, their concentration on the western outskirts of Aleppo in the series of Jihadi offensives which have been taking place there since the summer is draining Jihadi strength elsewhere.

The result since the start of the summer is a series of rapid advances by the Syrian army elsewhere in western Syria, especially in Latakia province and near Damascus, as Jihadi fighters have been pulled away from these fronts to Aleppo. 

The scale of the fighting in Aleppo and Aleppo’s importance means that scant attention is given to the other battlefronts in western Syria.  The result is that the rapid collapse of Jihadi positions across much of western Syria which has been going on since early summer is going unreported.

There is now even speculation that because of the heavy losses in men and equipment and above all commanders the Jihadis are suffering outside Aleppo, the future defence of Idlib – where Al-Qaeda has its Syrian headquarters – is being compromised, making its eventual recapture by the Syrian army easier once eastern Aleppo has been finally recaptured. 

It is testament to the importance of Aleppo to the Jihadi cause that they seem incapable of giving up there but persist instead in reinforcing failure there despite their heavy losses and even as the evidence of the consequences of doing this mounts up all around them.

In the meantime and unsurprisingly the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo have rejected Putin’s demand that they leave eastern Aleppo on Friday.  Presumably they are still hoping that the latest Jihadi offensive will succeed in breaking the siege.  However given their fanaticism and their seeming determination to hold at any cost on to eastern Aleppo – which has now become so symbolic of their whole cause – I have to say that I don’t expect them to give up and leave eastern Aleppo even if or rather when the current Jihadi offensive fails, and even if the Turkish army and government tells them to do so.

As to the prospects of the latest Jihadi offensive, though there is as yet no information about its progress or lack thereof, I expect it eventually to fail – as the last two did – with any gains it makes proving ephemeral, just as was the case with the gains the Jihadi offensive made last summer.

Meanwhile Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in comments on Thursday 3rd November 2016 placed the responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo firmly on the Western powers for their failure to put pressure on the Jihadis to leave eastern Aleppo. 

In the process Rybakov also confirmed that last minute talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries to achieve such a withdrawal are currently underway.  Here is what TASS reports him to have said:

“The work (on Aleppo) is in progress, the militaries are in contact (NB: this clearly refers to the ongoing talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries – AM), various options have been discussed over the last few days.  The most important thing is that Russia and the Syrian government have been taking all possible steps to alleviate the difficulties that the residents of Aleppo are facing.

You can see how reasonable and responsible the Russian military unit’s command has been while fulfilling the orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.  On November 4, a new humanitarian pause will be launched as Russian and Syrian warplanes haven’t been conducting any operations in this area for 17 days now.

I would like address those who continue bashing Moscow for what is going on in Syria and have been looking for new pretexts. I call on them to remove their ideological blinders, and after all acknowledge the truth that it is not in Russia’s hand to decide whether the humanitarian problem in eastern Aleppo will be solved. Pressure needs to be exerted on the terrorists and extremists who are actually preventing these problems from being solved.”

(bold italics added)

These comments clearly hint that unless the talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries succeed a final assault on the Jihadi held districts of eastern Aleppo will be launched probably either this weekend or as soon as the latest Jihadi assault has been repulsed.

Since I don’t expect the talks between the Russian and Turkish militaries to succeed – at least to the extent of getting the Jihadis to withdraw from eastern Aleppo – and since I don’t expect the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in eastern Aleppo to agree to withdraw under any circumstances, I anticipate that the final assault on the Jihadi enclave will come shortly, perhaps as soon as this weekend.

It is surely not a coincidence that the Russian fleet – including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the nuclear powered missile battle cruiser Pyotr Veliky – are expected to reach their battle stations off the Syrian coast on Friday, at approximately the time when Putin’s offer to the Jihadis to leave Aleppo peacefully by way of the corridors provided to them comes to an end.

POSTSCRIPT: Since the above was written reports from Aleppo have appeared which speak of this latest Jihadi assault on the city having failed, with the assault being successfully repelled by the Syrian army, and with the Jihadis again suffering heavy losses.  These reports are for the moment very sketchy.  There is no definite confirmation and few details.  A further update will provided as soon as there is more news.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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