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28 July 2016

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Geo

With all the open ground to east and west the SAA already looks already to have a defensible postion on its encirclement. I expect that Handarat Camp will fall and the easterly frontline become the Qweiq river. From there people talk of the SAA going for Sakhur or Anadan but these moves will involve a lot of casualties. I wonder if a westerly encirclement of the Anadan plains is a viable option. Does anyone know if the terrain or any other reason makes this a bad plan?

Poul

The rebels must have manpower shortages too since their counter-attacks north of Aleppo were so feeble.

Just up:
The pressure from Russia has caused Jabhat al-Nusra to declare that they no longer are a part of al-Qaeda. In the hopes of avoiding more bombings no doubt.

https://twitter.com/MehsenMekhtfe/status/758695592755355648

But is it with the blessings of Ayman al-Zawahiri

http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/08052016

RenegadePrimate

What's the military imperative now? Lay siege and wait (France and Britain are howling for an end to the siege already) or continue the attack?

Once the siege is resolved favourably, is a huge rollback in the Idlib province a matter of time or wishful thinking?

If it were me I'd immediately consolidate my hold on the city for its symbolic value, and to prevent nasty surprises like a massive terrorist assault to reopen the Corstello Highway.

turcopolier

All

I am gong to hope that some of you analyze the terrain and military situation at Aleppo for the rest of us. I am a bit distracted. pl

Trey N

Poul said... "The rebels must have manpower shortages" and "The pressure from Russia..." while RenegadePrimate worries about "a massive terrorist assault".

RP need have no worries because Poul is correct. Economic and other pressure on Turkey from Russia after the Su-24 attack has finally taken its toll, and Erdogan has had to throw up his hands and beg "no mas!"

Among the price he will now have to pay to save himself (and Turkey) is closing the border to the liver-eaters. The writing is on the wall for them, and they know it.

Now, the problem is kill all the rats in the trap and not let any get away to continue the evil Borgist program elsewhere in the world....

Peter

Agree completely. I foresee a bit of a problem with Assad granting general amnesty and a "return to civilian life" for any Syrian liver-eater who is willing to completely surrender. I mean it's great that he is willing to compromise while the other side is just going to saw your head off, but I hate the idea that some of these vermin will use this as an opportunity to blend in and escape.

RenegadePrimate

Yes I'm anticipating a major Turkish pivot after the Putin Erdogan summit next month.

The basic conundrum the Sultan faces (thanks to foreign policy adventurism) is choosing between neo-ottoman ambitions and Kurdish separatism/irredentism. Since the latter is existential to Turkey's territorial integrity, eventually he has to abandon the former. Without Russia and Iran supporting Assad reigning in the YPG, he'll be facing a de facto independent Kurdish state on his Syrian border.

Harry

But they have removed AQ, so now they must be released.

One would hope the Russians don't permit their escape.

JJackson

Could the Borg be desperate enough to buy this re-branding as cuddly grazing Unicorns? I don't believe the the R+6 will even consider changing their position. The KSA, on the other hand, will probably be pushing for the new entity not to automatically inherit JaN's terrorist status.

Ex-PFC Chuck

Per. John Helmer in Moscow the pivot has already occurred.
http://johnhelmer.net/?p=16140

Barish

"I wonder if a westerly encirclement of the Anadan plains is a viable option. Does anyone know if the terrain or any other reason makes this a bad plan?"

It would probably be rather difficult to carry that out as the area to Anadan's west is rather hilly country. If your device can handle it, you can see for yourself on this interactive militarymaps.info map here:

http://militarymaps.info/

To have a less hardware-intensive option to check the terrain, see wikimapia here south of Tamurah, a point to Halab's northwest which was captured by SAA and allies back when the siege on Nubl and al-Zaraa was lifted back in February:

http://wikimapia.org/#lang=de&lat=36.285657&lon=37.042980&z=13&m=b&show=/25600866/Tamurah

For areas of control see this map here made by edmaps, showing the front-lines as of July 27:

http://www.edmaps.com/Battle_for_Northern_Syria_July_27.png

Not yet considered in the ed-map is the huge, rapid collapse of the insurgents in Bani Zaid-district, directly to the west of Kurdish Sheikh Maqsood-district within the urban demarcation of Aleppo-city that fell to SAA during the night from July 27-28. Mighty impressive work by SAA and YPG, even though the headless assault by the insurgents on Sheikh Maqsood directly preceding said complete rout suggests that the "unicorns" gathered there were just that: completely bereft of capable command/ "brains" for a sustained hold-out there and/or completely unprepared for the doors slamming shut on the Kastilu-route.

Meanwhile, the area adjacent to the Gaziantep-highway, from Bilayramoun-district to Bayanoun, would probably be difficult going for SAA to take. On the other hand, if RuAF, SyAAF and their ground artillery can keep up the pressure here beyond Fatah Halab's breaking point, as was the case in Mallah fields, Layramoun industrial and Bani Zaid districts, they might fall yet along with a good number of unicorn-crews gathered there. What is also important to watch, however, are the forces the unicorns of Jaish al-Fatah gathered to the south between Khan Tuman and Tal al-Eis, what their next move is and how SAA and allies are going to react to that.

turcopolier

all

" ... kill all the rats in the trap and not let any get away to continue the evil Borgist program elsewhere in the world...." Yes. Once the jihadis are eliminated the city IMO will not be hard to hold as people, even die hard Sunnis will want to get back to real life. In that circumstance a drive into Idlib would be appropriate. pl

Nick Smith

FYI, the link to the podcast in your main page header is dead right now. The premise of your novels is intriguing, would love to hear the interview.

I've referred a few friends here over the years, many of whom otherwise wouldn't read up in detail about all this stuff, and usually they tell me they can't believe how informative and no nonsense all the writing here is. Thanks very much, and keep up the good work.

-Nick

turcopolier

Nick

What premise is that? Is it that the Confederates thought their secession was legal and that their resistance to foreign invasion was moral and constitutional? Have you read the books? pl

different clue

JJackson,

Yes, the Borg would buy this re-branding. And then the Borg will try selling this rebranding to all their captive publics. " The evil Lavrov accepts that they are now Democratic Opposition, so it MUST be true!" The question for me is why would any RussiaGov thinker-doers believe that al Nusra means it?

different clue

Trey N,

If I haven't misunderstood a comment just a little above yours, hasn't Russian pressure led al Nusra to declare itself to be Democratic Opposition now? If Russian pressure achieved that re-branding, wouldn't that mean that Russian rebranding will allow the Nusroids to escape deletion, and run away to hide till they can jihadify another day?

If I am understanding correctly, why would Russia do that? To speed up the Liberation of Syria? And about all the escaped al Nusras . . . well fiddle dee dee? They'll worry about that tomorrow?

oofda

Hope you and yours are well....

Brunswick

R+6 military pressure, and ongoing political pressure, got the US OIR after 8 months to admit that "maybe" al Nusra and it's allies were viable targets under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

The Saudi/GCC Jihadi Headchopper Sponsors and their allies in the West, have been suggesting for almost a year, that al Nusra "rebrand", so that they could try to "duck" the terrorist lable and take their place at the trough of ouside weapons and money flooding into Syria to topple Assad and sunder Syria.

The most recent pressure of getting their assets kicked by the R+6, and the brilliant R+6 program of making it brutally clear to the US OIR, that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement matters,

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/17/russian-warplanes-bomb-elite-british-backed-syrian-rebels/

Has caused al Nusra to rebrand in the "hopes" that move will get them out from under the R+6 sights and somehow under the warm, protective arms of the US OIR.

"Pushed to define “other terrorist groups,” Lavrov said: “If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?”

http://kfor.com/2015/10/01/russias-lavrov-on-syria-targets-if-it-looks-like-a-terrorist-walks-like-a-terrorist/

I doubt that the Borg are going to be able to sell the "rebranding" to the P.T. Barnum US public enough, or the UNSC, to have this "rebranding" make a difference.

Gabriel

SST readers,

I'm still working on an earlier stage of the fighting, so what follows will not be enormously illuminating, but it might add a few oob details that are not often reported in summary pieces.

As I think this map (http://www.agathocledesyracuse.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Aleppo-28-July-2016.jpg) shows rather nicely, there were essentially two sequential operations in what has become an envelopment, one in the north, the other in the South, each built around one of the fully-capable regime. units

(Incidentally, I imagine Agathocle de Syracuse known to those of you who follow Syria, but allow me to recommend it for anyone looking for a one-stop place to keep track of the fighting. Do see his latest interactive, ie pan-zoomable, map here, http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/fr/map/desyracuse-syria-civil-war-15-july-2016_94438#10/36.1517/37.3233)

* The first one, which I think Col Lang discussed in an earlier post, occurred from the north and was carried out by the Suheil al Sahan's "Tiger Forces" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Forces), which had some experience of operating in the general area north of Aleppo (they spearheaded the relief of Kuweires airfield last year, and then were at the center of the push northwest that created the Al-Bab pocket north of the city). These were able to achieve direct observation of this "Castello Road" leading towards rebel-held Aleppo after they captured the Al-Mallah farms directly north of it.

Since at the time it was reported that the unit was only being supported by Iraqi Shia militias of the Kataeb Hezbollah (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata%27ib_Hezbollah), I was pretty sure that, as with earlier offensives, attacks against these weaker units would force the first-line Tiger Forces to withdraw from occupied territory. Now, I'm not sure if this was not attempted, but as far as I saw the rebel forces focused on trying to push back the Tiger Forces directly, rather than creating crises on the flanks, something they'd done with *some* success south of Aleppo in late 2015 and again one or two months ago These attacks were successfully (if possibly not without cost--there was some see-saw fighting for a time) repelled.

* The second, and much more surprising to me, advance by the SAA was an attack out of roughly what shows up in the map as "Khalidiyeh", this one organized around units of the 4th Mechanized Division (unfortunately I don't know which sub-unit, since the 154th brigade reportedly recruited out of Aleppo Sunni Muslims), but with the support of the Palestinian Liwaa al-Quds (it was on suspicion of being a member of this that that kid was recently decapitated by one of the rebel groups) and local militia NDF units, which for Aleppo appear to be above-average in quality (they performed perfectly well in open field conditions in late 2015 in areas east of the city). To refer again to the map, you'll see this (alongside supporting Kurdish advances out of Sheikh Maqsoud, is what completed the link-up between the two pincers and created the encirclement we're talking about today.

It's the success of this second attack that puzzles me the most and that I hope to look into more closely in the coming days. Independently of truisms about urban warfare, I've mapped how earlier gains/losses in this exact area usually measured in single buildings. Secondly, I imagine many of you have seen the 2012-14 videos of SAA mechanized formations operating in cities--unaccompanied tanks powering to some intersection, firing the main gun, then reversing back, no infantry ever in sight. So that now even a first-line SAA unit being able to take an entire neighborhood so quickly very unusual (fighting in Damascus a concurrent example of what has been the norm).

To use a conjecture-refutation phrasing, what I've picked out from the above is the following:

(1) Have the rebels/opposition/etc. around Aleppo become significantly weaker in June 2016 than they were even in February? If you remember, sometime in the second quarter of the year (sorry, really can't remember the date), they were able to launch this counterattack south of Aleppo that recovered some very hard-fought gains of the SAA earlier in the year, as it happens from Iranian and Iraqi shia militias. I remember some commentators speculating that the entire late 2015 gains would be erased. Suddenly, however, the surplus of fighting power the non-ISIS rebels seemed to have to attack weak spots seemed to vanish, so they were staking everything on direct attacks against first-line forces (like the Tiger Forces in the Malah farms). As was said about Transylvania in the Thirty Years' War, the rebel forces in the area seemed to be "a torrent without a source." There were always enough of them to mount credible attacks in secondary areas. This (as far as I very barely know) has not happened, or at least not in any scale that would capture villages and make people worried.


(2) Are enough elements of the SAA (including militia/paramilitary units) getting better enough for Assad to have something like a balanced army, or at least not a few good units lost in a sea of inscrutable-quality militias that can suddenly break when pushed? Some commenters above have posted satellite images of the areas captured by the SAA from the south--highly built up. I'd also like to see if there were failed attacks against flank-holding militia units in the north--maybe there weren't (which would further suggest that (1) is correct and, for whatever reason, combat power of rebels in Aleppo area much weaker than it had been even a few months ago.

(3) Has Russian air support intensified significantly? I haven't seen that it has, but then again I haven't looked into the question. There were reports of course of Russian air-strikes in Aleppo area, but these in the past could be quite anemic (some of their gunships strafing the area, etc.). I bring this up because it's the only other factor I could think of at the moment why, north of Aleppo, SAA suddenly so strong and Opposition suddenly so weak (even in the minimum sense of being to *do* things outside where the fighting was happening that particular day/week), or at least latter not nearly as strong as they'd shown themselves to be in the very recent past in that area.


And that is all. Please don't read any hint of authoritativeness in any of the above. I wrote it as someone who paid enough attention to the events in question to be able to supply the kind of detail that's bulked up this post, but has nowhere near the time (much less capacity) to make sure that said details are accurate, much less such conclusions as I draw from them.

Henshaw

Idlib is conservative Sunni territory, and rebel heartland. Many Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian members of rebel groups come from here. Blockading it by closing off the supply routes from Turkey would probably be a more effective use of resources.

Capacity of terrorists to re-open the Castello Highway would depend on the degree of support they have from Turkey- this remains an unknown, although some rebel leaders are calling 'game over' in light of Turkey's post-coup attitude shift and the impending loss of Aleppo. In any case, an assault would attract the immediate attention of the RuAF.

RenegadePrimate

I'd read that article. Agree mostly. However, I'd make a couple of observations.

1. The sultan doesn't WANT to terminate the head-chopper support operation. Exigent circumstances are forcing his hand, which includes Russian pressure. So Turkey is curving rather than pivoting. Thus the conference, where no doubt Putin will make some points abundantly clear to his counterpart, will be part of a graduated process.

2. Explaining the pivot to the Islamized masses that threw themselves in front of the tanks for Sultan and Allah may be difficult. Could lead to implementation problems.

turcopolier

Gabriel

Good work. I, too, have wondered with what forces the Syrians at Mallah Farms and beyond now are securing the flanks of their penetration. pl

turcopolier

Brunswick

I hope/doubt that the R+6are going to buy the idea of sheep dipped Nusra being different that what it was. pl

turcopolier

oofda

We are OK. I misplaced the key to the refrigerator in my outdoor kitchen extension and spent the day searching the house for it, hoping that I would not end like the woman in the dementia commercial by finding the key in the refrigerator. I did not and ordered a new key or two from the manufacturer. pl

Peter Reichard

It is hilarious to think that Nusra's road to Damascus could be paved by anyone actually believing they underwent a sudden "road to Damascus" conversion into moderate rebels. Just shows how desperate they are.
Assad's generous offer of amnesty is an important tactic towards the all important goal of getting Aleppo's liberation over quickly for its morale boosting and media narrative effects but especially to free up troops for use elsewhere.

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