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With Aleppo encircled, Syria's Assad is in the ascendancy Open in fullscreen

Bill Law

With Aleppo encircled, Syria's Assad is in the ascendancy

More than 200 people have been killed in one week of strikes in Aleppo [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 May, 2016

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As Aleppo burns, history will surely judge that in our collective failure to find a way to save Syria, we have empowered brutal dictators, writes Bill Law.
As the barrel bombs and shells rain down on the ruined city of Aleppo and the 300,000 civilians trapped there, a cold and calculated strategy is reaching its logical conclusion.

Syria's second city, what was once the economic, industrial and cultural heartland of the country, is now a battered ruin.

The seizure of what is left of it is set to give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers - Russia and Iran - their greatest victory in a terrible civil war that has already killed close to half a million people and driven millions more into flight.

The current bombing campaign that targeted and destroyed the al-Quds hospital - killing at least 50 medics and patients - is designed to soften up Aleppo, while Assad's ground troops supported by Hizballah and members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard effect an encirclement intended to relieve regime forces holding parts of the city.

Much of that goal has already been accomplished, with the Washington based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reporting a concentration of pro-Assad forces in the vicinity of Aleppo.
Much of that goal has already been accomplished, with the Washington based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reporting a concentration of pro-Assad forces in the vicinity of Aleppo.
Since early April, the regime and its allies have been deploying "large numbers of personnel, armoured vehicles and artillery systems".

ISW also notes that Russia has redeployed its own artillery units from eastern Homs Province where they played a crucial role in the liberation of Palmyra. 

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The Iranians are allegedly using Aleppo's International Airport - which is in government hands - on a twice-daily basis, to deliver supplies and reinforcements to its own IRGC brigades.

One doesn't need to look too far to see the hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the master strategist, at work. 

Putin, you will recall, pummelled the Chechen capital Grozny into submission in 2000, after a siege that lasted for nearly a year. His enemy then - and what he says are the enemy now - are "Islamist extremists".

As for truces, Putin's truce in Ukraine was a sleight of hand that enabled Russian troops to support pro-Russian forces and accomplish the goal of crippling the Ukrainian state, reinforcing Russia's seizure of the Crimea. He used the truce as diplomatic cover to realise a military objective, precisely what he is doing now to assist Assad.

Meanwhile, as Aleppo suffers appalling casualties, we in the West do nothing. For we are hamstrung by the challenge of trying to sort out who to support and how. 
As Aleppo suffers appalling casualties, we in the West do nothing. For we are hamstrung by the challenge of trying to sort out who to support and how
The Syrian opposition is so fragmented it is no longer possible to tell if it ever was or who are - in US Secretary of State John Kerry's memorable phrase - "the good guys from the bad guys".

The Russians are pounding the al-Nusra Front, but Nusra, a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate, is fighting with other forces that the West and its Gulf allies support.

Meanwhile the Turks are bombing elements of the Kurdish forces, the very ones who have proved the most successful in the battle against the so-called Islamic State [IS] group.

And we have yet to resolve who it is we are actually fighting – IS, Assad, or both at the same time?

It is, most assuredly, a cocktail of confusion and constantly shifting uncertainties.

But it should not be an excuse for doing nothing.

For his part, Putin must look at the myriad complexities of the forces arrayed against his ally Assad and smile. 

For him the choice is an easy one. He simply needs to back Assad and maintain collegial relations with Iran to win a significant victory.

To give him his due, Putin is clever at the great game. He has succeeded in forging a troika of convenience, one that, should it succeed, will secure for the Russians their naval base on the Mediterranean, for the Iranians a win in their hegemonic struggle with Saudi Arabia, and for Assad a strong stake to remain in power once this awful war ends.

As for the terrible price that the people of Aleppo city are paying, it is one that none of this troika care a fig about.

But the rest of us should care.

As Aleppo burns and its war battered people are slowly encircled, history will surely judge that in our collective failure to find a way to save Syria and Aleppo from Assad, we have empowered brutal dictators and in the process come away with much blood on our hands.


Bill Law is a former BBC Gulf analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @Billlaw49

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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