I lifted this from an EO comment. That is why it has no paragraph breaks. pl
"Colonel – this is an email I sent in response to a reproach that in opposing Western policy in Syria I was supporting a mass murderer, as proved by Assad’s actions in recovering East Aleppo. It’s too long for insertion in your comments section but it occurs to me that if your committee of experts were able to put together an overview of the Syrian war with particular reference to East Aleppo it might give many of us something to fall back on when responding to such reproaches. “The Syrians had to get East Aleppo back or they’d have had little chance of successfully resisting Daesh in the longer term. But what occurred in East Aleppo might also be viewed as a hostage release operation. The Jihadis were fighting from a populated area. It was therefore difficult to defeat them without civilian casualties. For this reason the Russians kept on agreeing to cease fires or "pauses" in the fighting in order to get the civilians out. In the meantime the Jihadis were able to fire indiscriminately into Western Aleppo causing a number of civilian casualties. The pauses the Russians insisted on didn’t work that well because (1) the pauses were used by the Jihadis to regroup and where possible to re-supply, so to some extent the pauses just prolonged the agony. It’s possibly true therefore that more were killed as a result of some of these pauses than were saved. (2) The Jihadis shot at the civilians as they were attempting to leave. In spite of these drawbacks the Russians kept plugging away with the humanitarian pauses and ultimately it did work. By the end they were getting a lot of civilians out and also getting a lot of the Jihadis to lay down their arms. How many moderate rebels did the same we won’t know. The term “moderate rebel” or “rebel” might indeed have some meaning in the Syrian context but it’s a term so often used by the politicians as a euphemism for Al-Qaeda or similar groups that that meaning is never clear. Bear in mind also that many of those Jihadis couldn't really be called true Jihadis anyway. Aleppo was an industrial area before the war. When Daesh took over East Aleppo machinery and equipment was dismantled and taken to Turkey. In addition the sanctions had damaged the Syrian economy. Those two factors meant that many people lost their jobs. When Daesh came in they had a great amount of money behind them so the jobless who’d stayed often enlisted with Daesh in order to feed their families. One aim of the Syrian government was to get these people off the Daesh payroll and back into Syrian society. That seems to have worked, although you can't be sure some won't be shot in a quiet corner later. Some of the Aleppo population who joined Daesh were, however, true believers. Fanatics, just as the invaders were.
Some of those who survived agreed to leave. I suspect the fate of the rest will depend on the circumstances in which they are captured. If they are hiding among the civilians that are still in place then it’s going to be a mess separating them out. The wives and families of the Jihadis presented a problem also. Those Jihadis who agreed to leave are reported to have taken their families with them to Idlib or Turkey. I don’t know if that’s true. I hope so. It’s possible some Jihadis stayed on with the intention of staging a Masada. There was talk of the Jihadis enquiring whether they could have a Fatwa allowing them to kill their families. I don't know whether that was just one of the many pieces of disinformation we’re presented with and I don’t know whether any families were so killed. As for whether it could have been done differently, the Russians learned a lot in the Chechen wars about dealing with Jihadis who've got themselves entrenched in a heavily populated area. You don't just smash the whole lot up with heavy artillery, civilians and all. You try to get the Jihadis out of the heavily populated areas even if that means letting them go to fight elsewhere, and above all you try to get any civilians you can clear of the fighting. All this was done in Aleppo and it seems to have worked. The report you sent me mentions population figures. Originally the Western press was claiming 250,000 civilians trapped in East Aleppo. I don't think that's true. Many of the civilians got out if they could when Daesh arrived. The press also gives the impression that the civilian population supported the Jihadis. Here impressions are all we've got to go on. The relief on the faces of those who were liberated, and their gratitude to the Syrian soldiers, was clear enough but of course those were the videos that were shown. For all we know there could well have been other Syrians who regretted the Jihadis' defeat. The celebrations in Aleppo as it all came to an end couldn't have been faked but again we didn't see the people who weren't celebrating. From reports from other areas it appears that Jihadi rule is not agreeable to the population, whatever creed or group, so it’s likely that most in Aleppo were glad to be free of it. Many of the atrocity stories you're reading are demonstrably fake. The "White Helmets" and the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" are no longer regarded as credible sources, though I still see them quoted by the press. The man who set up the former, incidentally, has just been awarded the OBE. That indicates that our politicians are doubling down on that fiction. The latter I sometimes see stated to be a propaganda outlet for Western Intelligence services rather than just a man running a shop. I’m not sure that improves matters, if true. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if some of the atrocity stories weren't correct. This was no clean fight. The use of civilians by the Jihadis ensured that. I don't think we're that used to this sort of fighting. In the Second World War civilians were used to influence military outcomes - refugee flows were deliberately set in motion to clog up the movements of the opposing army, or civilians were bombed as part of the military strategy - but not as an integral part of the fighting. You could argue that that war was so brutal that civilians who got in the way or were put in the way just got rolled over, but in the Western European theatre at least the attitude was that using civilians as human shields wasn't right. That's still the attitude we have, in the main, and we're not used to operations in which hostage civilians are used for military and propaganda advantage. We like to think that the soldiers do their stuff while looking after us, not while using us as part of their armoury. Forget all that with the Jihadis. I think the reports that civilians were used as human shields by the jihadis in Manbji were probably true and the stories of civilians on the outskirts of Mosul being herded into the city for a similar purpose are true. I don't know that we ourselves have got clean hands either when it comes to causing suffering among civilians. We bomb a disproportionate amount of civilian infrastructure and the claims that we do this for tactical reasons may be correct. Certainly for the Jihadis and maybe for Western strategists civilians are pawns and the use made of those pawns is not much influenced by concern for their welfare. It is, however, influenced by the degree to which they can be used as stage props. What we are seeing in the press reports you send me are the stage props being deployed. Ultimately, what the West is doing in Syria can't be done if the peoples of the Western are massively against it. Therefore the propaganda war here is as decisive as what the men with guns do there. Therefore we must be shown dead bodies and ruined buildings and the message must be constantly reiterated that it’s Assad’s doing. Doesn't even matter if, as sometimes happens, those dead bodies and ruined buildings are from a different place and time. The message must be got through that Assad is brutally killing his own people and that that’s what it’s all about. I’m afraid that this message, repeated day in day out, is indeed what is getting through to the most of us and could be the picture of this war that most of us retain.. I think the Russians understand this very well. As in the case of the Donbass they know that the greater part of the fight is being conducted on the TV screens and computer screens in the West. It is this that accounts for those sometimes counter-productive ceasefires and truces that the Russians are forever agreeing to or imposing, those ceasefires that the military experts fulminate against because it so often loses them the military advantage. I'd like to think that the Russians and the Syrians are motivated by humanitarian reasons too, but even if they're not that is how they had to fight in order to liberate East Aleppo. There's no doubt they had to liberate it. Either the Jihadis were to be allowed to stay in East Aleppo, in which case they had a base for further advances and could continue the random shelling of West Aleppo indefinitely, or they had to be got out. I think the Russians masterminded the operation more skilfully and with fewer civilian casualties than we're going to do if the Jihadis in Mosul don't surrender, and certainly more skilfully than was the case in Fallujah earlier or in Manbji. We should also ask what our governments were doing supporting the Jihadis. Allowing the Saudis and the Gulf States to support them with large amounts of money, allowing the supply routes through a NATO ally, Turkey, and also at first through Jordan, running weapons to them from places like the Ukraine and Bulgaria, and allowing a recruitment operation that fetched Jihadis from as far away as China, all these actions mean that we, or at least our governments, must take the primary responsibility for the Syrian disaster. Before we criticise the Syrians and their allies for doing the best they could to combat the problem we should ask ourselves why we set them the problem in the first place.”"