In a piece I wrote for The Duran on 8th August 2016 I said that Syrian Jihadi gains in south west Aleppo would prove ephemeral and so it has proved.
Though it is unwise to be categorical about information coming from the battlefront in Aleppo where the fog of war lies particularly heavy, it seems that on Sunday 4th September 2016 the Syrian military finally regained possession of the cluster of military schools in south west Aleppo that some sections of the media call “the Aleppo military base”.
It was this cluster of military schools whose capture in the first week of August by a Jihadi force led by Jabhat Al-Nusra enabled the Jihadis to punch a hole into the government lines encircling the Jihadi held districts of eastern Aleppo.
The Jihadi capture of the military schools in early August led to a flood of triumphant headlines in the Western media about how the government’s siege of the Jihadi held districts of eastern Aleppo had supposedly been broken, and how the Syrian rebels would soon be in a position to capture the whole of Aleppo.
Neither allegation was remotely true. To the extent that the capture of the military schools was the basis for them, their recapture by the Syrian military has anyway now buried them. The narrow and hotly contested corridor the Jihadis briefly punched through the government lines into Jihadi held eastern Aleppo has now once more been closed.
In passing I note that the Western media that trumpeted the “rebel victory” and the “lifting of the siege of Aleppo” in early August when the military schools were captured, is now failing to report that the Syrian military has recaptured them or that the corridor has been closed.
The Syrian military’s recapture of the military schools in south western Aleppo comes on top of a series of Syrian government victories in the Damascus countryside, of which the most spectacular was the the Syrian military’s recapture of the town of Darayya. Whilst the Jihadis still control stretches of territory close to Damascus, the Syrian government is steadily regaining control in this area. Altogether the government victories near Damascus and in south west Aleppo bring the government closer to securing full control of Syria’s two biggest cities.
So far the Jihadi counter offensive against south west Aleppo has achieved little in military terms except to cause the Jihadis heavy losses in men and equipment as they became concentrated, exposing themselves to heavy attack by the Russian air force.
Whilst the precise number of Jihadi fighters killed in the fighting is unknown, with numbers claimed by the government and its Iranian allies to be treated with caution, that the losses are severe is shown by the large number of Jihadi commanders who are known to have been killed in the fighting.
Though no one is saying it, it is possible that the notorious ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, who the Russians claim to have killed in an air strike on Maaratat-Um-Haush in Aleppo province, was one of these. The ISIS statement confirming al-Adnani’s death claims that he was
“martyred while surveying the operations to repeal the military campaigns against Aleppo”.
That would appear to suggest that al-Adnani was fulfilling some sort of role in the battle for Aleppo, possibly directing supplies there through the Jihadi controlled supply corridors in Syria’s north east.
The location the Russians give for where he was killed might support that interpretation. However any statement made by ISIS must be treated with the utmost caution, and it is just as likely al-Adnani was killed in an air strike whilst engaged in fighting the Kurdish YPG.
Regardless of whether or not al-Adnani was killed in the course of the battle for Aleppo, there is no doubt many other Jihadi commanders were.
There is a finite supply of these men, and replacing them will be difficult. The loss of dozens of experienced and dedicated Jihadi commanders will be a much bigger blow to the Jihadis then the loss of hundreds or even thousands of fighters, some of whom have allegedly been thrown into the fighting with just 3 weeks training.
The Syrian government’s victories in south west Aleppo and in the countryside near Damascus do not mean that the end of the war is near.
It remains highly possible that the Jihadis will regroup and counter-attack against Aleppo, especially now that they have safe zone in the north east of Syria that the Turkish military is busy creating for them.
However the heavy losses they have suffered makes that less likely. Though reports from Iranian sources should be treated with caution, they claim that the heavy losses the Jihadis have experienced in ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ have led to an outbreak of recriminations amongst the various Jihadi groups.
With several groups rebelling against Jabhat Al-Nusra’s leadership, quitting the battle and retreating into the safe zone in north east Syria the Turkish military is creating for them. That is by no means implausible. After all it is what happened in July during the fighting for the Castello road.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.