TLDR Up Front: Although Aleppo has been the Sarajevo of Syria since 2012, it’s forming into just such a battle as no less than six distinctly separate major forces converge onto the city from all sides. This is creating a “swirling” effect visible on the map as each group takes, loses and retakes ground. Except there are no elves, or dwarves or eagles – just various shades of humans (some acting like orcs if you ask me).
Full Context in the Back:
I’ve been asked by several folks “what is Aleppo and what’s going on there.” The best way to describe what’s going on is with one of the seminal moments of The Hobbit, the Battle of Five Armies. This latest offensive began in October and quickly has drawn in all major combatants in the region.
Even The Silmarillion wasn’t this complicated.
- Non-ISIS/Non-AQ/Non-Government Rebels which are essentially the Kurdish Self Defense militias and Syrian Revolutionary Council holding on as best they can.
- The Al Nusrah Front whom are Al-Queda affiliated rebels that have taken most of the province of Aleppo and almost surround the city in the west.
- ISIS advancing from the east.
- The Syrian Government advancing through a tenuous supply line that stretches south east and south.
- Foreign fighters backing the Syrian government: Hezbollah light infantry, Iran QODS & advisers and Russian air power.
I don’t see a collapse scenario in the city itself unless several of the belligerents join sides in a temporary enemy-of-my-enemy truce. Or the Syrian government supply lines are formally cut (both ISIS and Al-Nusrah have taken key roads in the last week but been unable to hold them). Russian airpower has been useful for the advance, but may be less useful in and around the city.
However…any of the six sides forced to abandon or pushed out of Aleppo, perhaps besides ISIS, suffers a serious blow to credibility that may result in a collapse scenario in their territory. The balance of forces in Syria are very tenuous…held as much by belief that it is indeed a war of attrition rather than rapid advances and collapsing forces. A rapid change in the status of Aleppo in favor of ISIS or Al Nusrah would probably mean the end of the unaffiliated “moderate” rebels (which are barely there anymore) and risk a rout of Syrian forces back down either to Homs or maybe even past Homs back into the Damascus area. It might also create the doubt that the Syrian/Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah coallition is strong enough to project power – forcing Russia or Iran to either intervene further or risk more losses.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of Aleppo citizens have fled north, they haven’t even exited Turkey yet let alone begun the trip into Europe.