Syrian regime advances on Aleppo

Originally commissioned December 2015

Regime advances to the east of FSA-(Free Syrian Army) controlled Aleppo have degraded ISIS’ supply lines to areas it controls in the north. Russian air power has allowed regime forces to make gains using its heavy weaponry in open terrain but taking strategically and symbolically important Aleppo will likely prove difficult.

  • Regime advances to the east of FSA-(Free Syrian Army) controlled Aleppo have degraded ISIS’ supply lines to areas it controls in the north.

  • Russian air power has allowed regime forces to make gains using its heavy weaponry in open terrain but taking Aleppo will likely prove difficult.
  • The FSA has adapted to Russian air-strikes and sought to deprive regime forces of ground intelligence, resulting in increased indiscriminate civilian targeting.

Recent regime advances have allowed Assad’s forces to take control of more points along the Aleppo-Raqqa highway, running across the Deir Hafter plains, a strategically important supply line for ISIS. The Deir Hafer plains are ISIS’ gateway to Aleppo from their controlled territory to the north. Without uncontested access to the road, movement of logistics and personnel will become increasingly difficult. ISIS’ control of its territory on the plains will be weakened. ISIS had previously raided weapons from regime bases supplying the Aleppo advance. These advances should provide regime forces increased security from future ISIS raids. Additionally, ISIS’ supply lines are now under threat from all sides, further degrading its ability to exert control over previously captured territory. Its narrative of a state that is ‘remaining’ is being challenged.

 

The Syrian regime has long sought to retake Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and industrial hub. The city is the headquarters of the FSA. It is also symbolically important, held up by FSA fighters as the true heart of Syria. The regime has begun surrounding the city in an effort to besiege it by isolating it from external support. The regime has also relieved previously isolated pockets of its forces, such as the strategic Kuweires air base. These advances represent a small PR success for the regime to show its foreign backers and dwindling support base, but the initial successes are likely to be short-lived.

The FSA has recovered from the initial shock of Russian air-power, adopting new tactics, such as ambushes and using smaller groups to harry supply lines, as well as bolstering its defences. Training sessions for FSA officers in countering the increased Russian presence have been set up in Homs. Additionally, poor intelligence on the ground has limited the strategic impact of air strikes. Moreover, recent strikes, like the one which hit a marketplace in Ariha, have primarily killed civilians. As such, the majority of the Syrian civilian population continues to view the regime as a bigger concern than ISIS.

Recent regime advances have been thus far largely limited to open territory, where air-power and heavy artillery have proven more effective. However, with its forces and confidence running low, the regime remains dependent on foreign soldiers, unfamiliar with the country, and forced conscripts. Continued killings of civilians, forced conscription and the use of foreign soldiers however will further undermine the regimes ability to sustain momentum within its forces. Therefore, holding any recaptured territory will likely stretch its already limited forces.

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