As ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ had ended in total Jihadi defeat, I find myself looking back to an article I wrote for The Duran on 30th July 2016, just after the Syrian army cut the Castello road, the main supply route of the Jihadis to Turkey.
In that article I pointed that the reason the Jihadis had got themselves trapped in eastern Aleppo was first and foremost their own intransigence.
Firstly, the so-called ‘moderates’ amongst the Jihadis repeatedly refused to dissociate themselves from Al-Qaeda, which in the form of its Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra eventually took over the leadership of the whole Jihadi movement in eastern Aleppo.
Secondly, they repeatedly refused to abide by ceasefires negotiated for them, instead using them – as I pointed out in my very first article for The Duran, written on 3rd May 2016 – as an opportunity to resupply and regroup preparatory to going back on the attack.
Thirdly, and most importantly, they always and invariably refused to compromise on their one overriding objective, which they were never in a position to achieve but which they still made their inflexible demand, that Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad be removed from office and that they be installed in his place.
I pointed in my July article that this intransigence was leading the Jihadis down a blind alley, setting them up for inevitable defeat. This is what I wrote
In February the US and Russia agreed a joint ceasefire plan which was confirmed in a succession of resolutions by the UN Security Council. This called for a cessation of hostilities in Syria which excluded known terrorist groups such as Daesh and Jabhat Al-Nusra. It also called for rebel groups in Syria to dissociate themselves and separate themselves from UN declared terrorist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra, and for negotiations in Geneva to be held between all the Syrian parties to achieve a political settlement.
Since February this process has been deadlocked. The rebel groups in and around Aleppo refused to dissociate themselves or separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra. Jabhat Al-Nusra for its part, with the support of the other rebel groups, exploited the cessation of hostilities and the pullout in March of part of the Russian aerial strike force to launch a series of counter-offensives against the Syrian army in and around Aleppo. The negotiations in Geneva went nowhere, with the Syrian rebels and their Western and Arab backers continuing to insist on the removal of President Assad as a pre-condition for a peace settlement.
Since neither the Syrian rebels nor their Western or Arab backers proved willing or able to implement the agreements made in February, the Syrians and their Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah backers resumed the offensive they interrupted in February. Since that is what the Russians warned would happen if the February agreement was not honoured it is difficult to understand why this should have come as a surprise. After all the warning was repeated on 17th March 2016 by no less a person than Putin himself:
“If necessary, of course, Russia will be able to enhance its group in the region in a matter of hours to a size required for a specific situation and to use all the options available. We would not want to do that. Military escalation is not our choice. Therefore, we still count on the common sense of both sides, on the adherence by both the Syrian authorities and the opposition to a peaceful process.”
Just as the Syrian offensive before the cessation of hostilities in February carried all before it because it had the backing of the Russian air force, of Hezbollah and of the Iranian army, so the Syrian offensive that was launched following the failure of the February agreement has similarly carried all before it and for the same reason – because it has the backing of the Russian air force, of Hezbollah and of the Iranian army. The result is that the rebels in Aleppo, who had secure supply lines to Turkey at the time the February cessation of hostilities agreement was agreed, have now seen those supply lines cut off and now find themselves encircled and trapped. Again given the balance of forces on the ground this was entirely predictable and it is difficult to understand why anyone should be surprised.
The reason the war in Syria has gone on for so long, and the reason why the rebels in Aleppo are now trapped and facing total defeat, is ultimately the same: the total intransigence of the Syrian opposition and of their Western and Arab backers. Though negotiated routes out of the war have repeatedly been offered to them (eg. the Arab League’s Peace Plan of 2011, the Kofi Annan plan of 2012, and this year’s February cessation of hostilities agreement) they have always in the end spurned them. Instead they have insisted on being given what they have never succeeded in achieving on the battlefield: President Assad’s removal from power and thus total victory. If they are now instead looking at total defeat then that is only because that is where their refusal to moderate their maximalist demands by even the slightest degree has led them.
In the Syrian war as in all else those who play for all or nothing risk ending up with nothing.
Today, following the Jihadis’ disastrous defeat in Aleppo, their withdrawal from the city, and the Syrian army’s announcement of victory, I feel justified in saying that every part of this analysis has been proved true.
Though the Jihadis did mount a major offensive in August in an attempt to break the siege of eastern Aleppo, in the end they were no more successful than they had been in preventing the siege from being imposed in the first place.
Subsequently events followed exactly as I predicted, so that today the Jihadis are experiencing “total defeat”. As I said in my July article “given the balance of forces on the ground” it could not have been otherwise.
The one point I did not make in my July article, and which I should have made because it was already apparent, was that the intransigence which finally doomed the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo was fully matched by the intransigence of their Western backers.
The same intransigence is the true reason for many of the civilian deaths in Aleppo.
As I also mentioned in the July article, the Russians were talking about establishing ‘humanitarian corridors’ to evacuate eastern Aleppo’s civilian population as soon the siege was imposed. Not only were these proposals spurned, but at the time I wrote my July article they were being derided. Disastrously, they continued to be spurned and derided in the following months, even as the siege of eastern Aleppo tightened, and even as the position of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo became ever more desperate.
To be clear, there was no reason why the evacuation of Jihadi fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo which has just happened could not have happened in September, when Lavrov and Kerry appeared to have agreed to it.
By going back on that agreement and by prolonging the siege pointlessly for 3 more months, the Jihadis and their Western backers – including of course the hardliners in the Obama administration – caused far more suffering and many more civilian deaths than there need have been to no military purpose. This is the key point to remember whenever the subject of civilian deaths in Aleppo caused by Russian and Syrian bombing is brought up.
The Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo had multiple causes of which the staunchness of the Syrian army and of the population of Aleppo under the terrible conditions of a four year Jihadi siege is by far the most important. Obviously the Syrian army could not have won the victory it has won now if its defences had crumbled or the population had fled or panicked during the long hard years of the Jihadi siege.
However the key point in military terms is that once the Russians and to a lesser extent the Iranians had become involved the Jihadi position in eastern Aleppo became militarily untenable. The Jihadis only realistic option at that point was either before July to abide by the February ceasefire, or after July to withdraw.
By refusing to do either of these things the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo doomed many civilians to unnecessary deaths. By failing to criticise them for doing so, the Western powers colluded with them in doing that.
By refusing to do those things which were realistic and rational, the Jihadis also landed themselves with a “total defeat” and helped secure their own downfall.