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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

On the eve of the decisive battle

If al-Assad loses Aleppo, the provisional opposition government is most likely to move in. Then international recognition will follow, and the days of Syria’s incumbent regime are numbered
7 August, 2012 - 00:00

Syria’s economic capital Aleppo (Halab) has been plagued by war for nearly two weeks now. They are much crueler and longer than the skirmishes in the official capital, Damascus, which had preceded the fighting in the north-west of the country.

It is quite obvious that president Bashar al-Assad’s regime is struck with permanent crisis. Its situation is constantly deteriorating, while the ability to counteract the armed opposition is dwindling. The military problems are aggravated with cadre ones. Every day there are reports of defectors: not only diplomats and legislators, but also army generals, colonels, and other figures of importance.

The cadre deficit clearly debilitates the Syrian army. On the other hand, the armed opposition is getting help from everywhere. In his interview to The Guardian Basheer al-Haji, spokesman for the insurgence brigade Tawheed (Unity), said that his troops had taken charge of all roads leading in and out of the city, as well as of the local civil airport.

As it was previously reported, the insurgents had seized the military base al-Bab and the suburb town of Anadan, five kilometers outside Syria’s financial capital. Before that, they also seized over the border town of Azaz. The control over Azaz and Anadan, the latter being strategically situated on a road to Turkey, has effectively created a corridor for fresh troops, arms, ammunition, and other supplies, vitally important for the rebels. If this corridor is not closed in the near future, the situation of government’s forces will considerably worsen.

All this indicates that fighting in Aleppo will not subside as quickly as in Damascus. Mobile anti-aircraft missile complexes are already being shipped from Turkey. It will promptly reduce the government army’s advantage in the air to zero.

There is yet another factor. Fighting broke out in Aleppo’s Christian districts, which does not do credit to the regime, either. Firstly, because Christians had been neutral in the conflict, and kept both insurgents and the regular army outside their part of the city. Now the situation has apparently changed, and at least a part of the Christian community is on the rebels’ side.

Secondly, the hostilities are gradually moving into the old town, with its crooked, narrow streets, where even cars can hardly drive. Moving tanks and armored vehicles to that part of Aleppo would be sheer suicide, because they will make an easy target for the insurgents, who now have antitank weapons. According to the insurgents’ spokesman, the army made several futile attempts to storm a strategically important quarter in the town of Salahuddin. “Yesterday we put out almost 20 armored vehicles,” he noted with satisfaction. This district, now in control of the insurgence, is of vital importance, as it is crossed by a highway that connects Aleppo with innermost regions and Damascus.

The regime’s army can only resort to clean-up operations by storm units. But this is exactly the kind of warfare the rebels are traditionally good at. Their vanguards are manned with fighters from Libya, Afghanistan, and Russia’s North Caucasus. They are well-armed and trained, they are expert at urban warfare, and outclass the regular army in all aspects.

The growing activity in creating a provisional government and administration, which will run the country after the dethronement of al-Assad till a free election is held, is an indirect proof of a certain progress, made by the armed opposition.

Haitham al-Maleh, a Syrian oppositionist, announced in Cairo the process of forming a government in exile, reports Agence France-Presse. According to al-Maleh, he was charged with this task by the opposition representatives in Syria and abroad. The oppositionist also said that he had agreed to lead the government in exile, since he feared the vacuum in government, which would inevitably follow the dismantling of the dictatorship. The 81-year-old al-Maleh is a Sunni Muslim of conservative views. He got a degree in law and has a career of a human rights advocate. Al-Maleh was imprisoned several times by the incumbent president and his father, Hafez al-Assad.

So far, the government’s army has an advantage in aircraft and artillery, thence constant bombardment of Aleppo. This tactics proved quite effective in provincial cities, and even in Damascus – on condition that they were encircled, and the oppositionists were cut off from supplies and reinforcement. In all appearances, this is not the case with Aleppo, which is hardly good for the regular army’s morale. Fights in Da­mascus revealed that the government army is bad at urban warfare, where it cannot make efficient use of armored vehicles, and has to storm every individual building. The story repeats itself in Aleppo, only this time around, with much worse complications.

Gaining control over Aleppo is vital for both parties in the conflict. If al-Assad loses the city, it is most likely that it will become the seat of the provisional government, thus turning into a Syrian Benghazi. Then, international recognition will follow – first of all, by the Gulf monarchies, and the days of the incumbent Syrian regime are numbered.

Should the government army regain the city, the insurgents will retreat to the rural districts, and the conflict will drag on and on, till the opposition’s sponsors run out of patience.

That is why both parties draw up forces in the city, and get ready for the decisive battle.