Furious battles have been raging around Aleppo as rebel forces led by Jabhat Al-Nusra have repeatedly tried – but have so far failed – to break the encirclement of rebel fighters trapped by the Syrian army in the suburbs of eastern Aleppo.
There is wide discrepancy about the number of rebel fighters involved, with figures given for the number of rebel fighters trapped in eastern Aleppo varying between 5,000 to 10,000, and with the number of rebel fighters involved in the attacks to break the siege put anywhere between 3,500 and 10,000. Though no figure has been given for the number of Syrian and allied troops involved in the fighting, it is doubtful that the Syrian army has a decisive numerical advantage. On the contrary if the higher estimates of the number of rebel fighters are anywhere true then the Syrian and allied forces concentrated in and around Aleppo might even be outnumbered.
This explains the decisive role of the Russian air force. Though the Syrian and allied troops fighting in and around Aleppo are better organised and more heavily armed than the rebels, ultimately they have to rely on bombing by Russian aircraft to make up for their lack of manpower. Russian bombing of rebel positions has in fact been going on round the clock, with rebel sources claiming that the Russian air force carried out no fewer than 40 strikes on their positions just this morning.
Confirmation of the intensity of the Russian bombing and its focus on the fighting in and around Aleppo has been provided by the Iranian news agency Fars. It confirms that no fewer than 15 Russian fighter bombers took part on Wednesday in bombing rebel positions in just one village.
Russian bombing means that the rebels cannot concentrate their forces and risk suffering heavy losses if they move in the open or try to hold ground. Again there are wide discrepancies in the figures given for the losses suffered by the rebel fighters. Two days ago the Russian military claimed that 800 rebel fighters were killed in just one day. That is almost certainly too high, but rebel sources have apparently admitted that they have lost 250 fighters killed since the attempts to break the siege began four days ago. That would still be a very heavy rate of loss, especially since many more rebel fighters have presumably been wounded. Even allowing for the fanaticism of some of the rebel fighters it is doubtful that they can keep taking such a rate of loss for much longer.
One consequence of the fighting in and around Aleppo is that the rebels are being forced to concentrate ever more of their forces there. As rebel losses mount Fars reports rebel commanders urgently calling on rebel fighters from across Syria to concentrate around Aleppo. That of course makes the rebels weaker in other areas whilst increasing their total loss rate as the Russian air force can now bomb more rebel fighters in one place. Transferring rebel fighters to Aleppo also makes it easier for the Russian bombers to attack and destroy the rebels’ supply convoys bringing fighters and relief supplies to the rebel forces concentrated around the city.
The Syrian war is increasingly becoming a battle of attrition in and around Aleppo, in which the Syrians and the Russians appear to hold a decisive advantage.