Battle of Aleppo (2012–present)
|Battle of Aleppo
|Part of the Syrian Civil War|
The situation in Aleppo, as of 15 June 2015
Syrian Army control Opposition control Kurdish control Islamic State of Iraq and the LevantOngoing confrontation or unclear situation
|Commanders and leaders|
|Formerly Abdel-Jabbar Ukaidi
(FSA Aleppo top commander)
(FSA Aleppo deputy commander)
Abdul Qader Saleh †
(Al-Tawhid Brigade top commander)
Yusef al-Jader †
Yussef Al-Abbas †
Khaled Hayani †
(16th Division [FSA] (Shuhada Badr) military commander)
Ebu Mohammed Suleiman
(Sultan Abdulhamid Han Brigade) Abu Mohammad (Kata ib-Essalam)
(Army of Mujahedeen)
Abu Khalid al-Suri †
Abdulrahman al-Salameh (Al-Nusra Front)
Sewsen Bîrhat  (YPJ commander)
Ali Abdullah Ayyoub
(Haidar al-Karar Brigades leader)
Elements of: 1st Corps:
22,980 overall deaths in the whole province (by early July 2015)
The Battle of Aleppo (Arabic: معركة حلب) is an ongoing military confrontation in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, between the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, People's Defence Units and Sunni militants against the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Shiite militants. The battle began on 19 July 2012 as a part of the Syrian Civil War. The battle's scale and importance led combatants to name it the "mother of battles". The battle has been highly noted for the Syrian army's indiscriminate use of barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, killing thousands. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate. On the other hand, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denounced the Free Syrian Army for the indiscriminate bombardment of government-held districts, with gas cylinders filled with explosives, which resulted in hundreds of casualties. The battle has also caused catastrophic destruction to the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 1 Onset
- 2 Combatants
- 3 Course of the Battle
- 4 Strategic analysis
- 5 Reactions
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Aleppo in July 2012, nationwide protests against the government led by President Assad had occurred since 15 March 2011 as part of the larger Arab Spring. The inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, initially remained largely uninvolved. As well as opposition protests, government organized rallies in support of the government were held.
Fighting in Aleppo governorate began on 10 February 2012. Over the next five months, major clashes left large parts of the rural countryside under rebel control, while the provincial capital, Aleppo city, remained firmly under government control. On 19 July 2012, rebel forces stormed the city and the battle for Aleppo began.
At the beginning of the Battle of Aleppo, rebels reportedly fielded between 6,000 and 7,000 fighters within 18 battalions. The largest was the al-Tawhid Brigade. The most prominent was the Free Syrian Army, largely composed of army defectors. Most rebels hailed from the Aleppo countryside, from towns such as Al-Bab, Marea, Azaz, Tel Rifaat and Manbij. However, a resident reportedly accused the rebels of using civilian homes as shelter. On 19 November 2012, the rebel fighters initially rejected the newly formed Syrian National Coalition, most notably the al-Tawhid Brigade and the al-Nusra Front. The next day the rebels withdrew their rejection.
Looting for supplies became a common occurrence among rebel fighters by December, switching their loyalties to groups who had more to share. This new approach led to incidents such as the killing of at least one rebel commander following a dispute, the loss of a frontline position due to fighters retreating with their loot and the failure of an attack on a Kurdish neighborhood. The looting cost the fighters significant popular support.
Islamic extremists and foreign fighters joined the fight. Many of them were experienced and came from the ongoing insurgency in neighboring Iraq. Jihadists reportedly came from across the Muslim World. Jacques Bérès, a French surgeon who treated wounded fighters, reported a significant number of foreign fighters, most with Islamist goals and were not directly interested in Bashar al-Assad. They included Libyans, Chechens and Frenchmen. He said this was in stark contrast to Idlib and Homs, where foreign forces were not common. Some FSA brigades cooperated with Mujahideen fighters.
The government retained support in Aleppo. A rebel commander stated that "around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime". However, during the course of the battle, Assad lost support from Aleppo's wealthy class. CBS News reported that 48 elite businessmen who were the primary financiers for the government switched sides. For the first time, the Syrian Army engaged in urban warfare. They divided their forces into groups of 40 soldiers each. The soldiers were mostly armed with automatic rifles and anti-tank rockets. Artillery, tanks and helicopters are used only as a support. In August the Army deployed its elite units. Eventually, after the rebels executed Shabiha and Zeino al-Berri (tribal leader of the al-Berri tribe) the tribe joined the fight against the rebels. The Christians supported the Army and formed militias aligned with the government following the capture of their quarters by the Syrian Army. The (Christian) Armenians also support the Syrian Army. Aleppo's Armenians claim that Turkey supported the FSA in order to attack Armenians and Arab Christians, the Armenians have a militia with around 150 fighters.
At the beginning Aleppo's Kurds formed armed groups, most notably the Kurdish Salahaddin Brigade. The brigade worked with the opposition, while the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) had poor relations with both sides. The PYD's Popular Protection Committees stayed out of Arab areas and insisted that the FSA stay out of the Kurdish area. They initially did not fight the Syrian Army unless attacked, but later joined the opposition against pro-Assad forces. The Kurdish areas in Aleppo were mainly under PYD control. Four hundred Turkmen joined the battle under Sultan Abdulhamid Han.
Course of the Battle
2012 – Initial rebel attack and capture of Eastern Aleppo
Gunfire between rebels and security forces broke out on the night of 19 July 2012 in and around Salaheddine, a district in the city's southwest portion. After one week of the war, The Guardian wrote
In late July and early August 2012, the FSA continued its offensive in Aleppo, with both sides suffering high casualties. Rebel commanders said their main aim was to capture the city center. Rebels seized a strategic checkpoint in the town of Anadan north of Aleppo, gaining a direct route between the city and the Turkish border, an important rebel supply base. They also captured Al-Bab, northeast of the city with an army base. Later, rebels attacked the Minakh air base, 30 km northwest of Aleppo, with arms and tanks captured at the Anadan checkpoint. Opposition forces continued to make territorial gains in the city, controlling most of eastern and southwestern Aleppo, including Salaheddine and parts of Hamdaniyeh. They continued to target security centers and police stations, as clashes erupted near the Air Force intelligence headquarters in Aleppo's northwestern Zahraa district. Rebels overran several police stations and posts in the central and southern districts of Bab al-Nerab, Al-Miersa, and Salhain, seizing significant amounts of arms and ammunition.
2013 – Advances and counter-advances
The al-Nusra Front unilaterally declared a no-fly zone in December and threatened to shoot down commercial aircraft, alleging that the government was using them to transport loyalist troops and military supplies. After multiple attacks on Aleppo International Airport, all flights were suspended on 1 January 2013. The following month, the rebels seized the Umayyad Mosque. However, during the battle, the musuem of the mosque caught fire and its ceiling collasped.
On 9 June, the Army announced the start of operation "Northern Storm", in an attempt to recapture territory in and around the city. Between 7 and 14 June, Army troops, government militiamen, and Hezbollah fighters, launched the operation. Over a one-week period, government forces advanced both in the city and the countryside, pushing back the rebels. However, on 14 June, according to an opposition activist, the tide started reversing, after rebels halted an armoured reinforcement column from Aleppo headed for the two Shiite villages northwest of the city.
The Syrian Army launched an offensive in Base 80 held by the rebels on 8 November. The army, according to the residents launched "the heaviest barrage in more than a year". Al Jazeera wrote that if the goverment were victorious then it would cut their route between the city and al-Bab. Two days later, Reuters reported that the rebels had "regrouped" to fight the army. Though fifteen rebels were killed, the army was successful in recapturing the army base.
The following month, the army sieged the city in Operation Canopus Star. The army helicopter attacked with barrel bomb, due to which, more than thousand people were killed as said by Free Syrian Army's Abu Firas Al-Halabi. By the end of the month, the army was successful in capturing Sheikh Maqsood and al-Jbanat areas of the besieged city.
2014 – Government encirclement of the rebels
Government forces, having lifted the siege of Aleppo in October 2013, continued their offensive in 2014, culminating in the capture of the Sheikh Najjar industrial district to the north of Aleppo and lifting the siege of Aleppo Central Prison on 22 May 2014, which contained a garrison of government soldiers that had resisted rebel forces since 2012.
Towards the end of the year, government forces captured the villages of Handarat and Sifat, Handarat hill and the Breij and al-Mallah areas, bringing them within a few hundred meters of surrounding Aleppo.
2015 – War of attrition
In early January, the rebels recaptured the Majbal (Sawmills) area of al-Brej, captured the southern entrance of the stone quarries known as al-Misat, forcing government troops to retreat to the north, and managed to seize the Manasher al-Brej area. They also tried to advance and take control over al-Brej Hill with which they could seize the military supply road from the Aleppo Central Prison to the Handarat and al-Mallah areas. At the end of January, the rebels took control over some positions in al-Brej Hill.
In mid-February, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies launched a major offensive in the northern Aleppo countryside, with the aim of cutting the last rebel supply routes into the city, as well as relieving the rebel siege of the Shi'a-majority towns of Zahra'a and Nubl to the north-west of Aleppo. They quickly captured several villages; however, bad weather conditions and an inability to call up reinforcements ultimately stalled the government offensive. A few days later, rebels launched a counter-offensive, retaking two out of four positions lost to government forces.
On 9 March, opposition forces launched an assault on Handarat, north of Aleppo, after reportedly noticing confusion in the ranks of government troops after the February fighting. It was initially reported that opposition forces captured Handarat, north of Aleppo. However, later it was reported by opposition sources the rebels managed to capture only 40–50% of the village, while the Army remained in control of the northern portion of Handarat. A military source stated they still controlled 80% of Handarat, while a rebel field commander claimed that opposition forces controlled 75%.
In preparation for a new offensive, the rebels heavily shelled government-held parts of the city, leaving 43 civilians dead and 190 wounded on 15 June. On 17 June, rebel forces captured the western neighborhood of Rashideen from government forces. The rebels also captured Tal Al-Afghani hill, near Bashkoy, north of the city. However, government troops recaptured the hill on 19 June. Throughout 19 and 20 June, a new round of rebel shelling killed 19 more civilians. On 25 June, after two years of fighting, rebels claimed to control Layramoun Square, and at the same time, managed to capture government barracks northwest of the city.
In early July, a major offensive was launched by two rebel coalitions against the western government-held half of the city. During five days of fighting, the rebels seized the Scientific Research Center, which was being used as a military barracks, on Aleppo's western outskirts. However, two rebel attacks on the Jamiyat al-Zahra area were repelled. Government forces launched an unsuccessful counter-attack against the Scientific Research Center.
Rebel forces expanded to the countryside south of Aleppo to control sections of the M4 and M5 highway, effectively blocking ground reinforcements for the Syrian Army. Before the end of 2012, the Syrian army in Aleppo was receiving sporadic supplies and ammo replenishment by air or dangerous backroads. The fall of Base 46, a large complex in the area which reinforced and supplied government troops, was seen by experts as "a tactical turning point that may lead to a strategic shift" in the battle for Aleppo. In a November 2012 intelligence report, Stratfor described the strategic position of government forces in Aleppo as "dire", with the Free Syrian Army having them "essentially surrounded".
On 26 November 2012, rebels captured Tishrin Dam, further isolating government forces in Aleppo with only one route into Aleppo remaining. By late January 2013 Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil admitted that all supply routes to Aleppo had been cut off by opposition forces, comparing the situation to the Siege of Leningrad. By late February 2013, the Aleppo international airport was almost totally surrounded by rebel forces. Later, the Syrian army regained control of the strategic Tel Sheigeb town allowing them to approach the airport. In November 2013, the Syrian army retook the town of al-Safira. This opened a road for the government to support the besieged Kuweires Military Airbase and Aleppo Power Plant.
In February 2014, it was reported that the army planned to encircle Aleppo and impose a mix of blockades and truces, as well as attempt to recapture the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City in order to rebuild the economy and provide jobs. As of October 2014, the army seized Sheikh Najjar, reinforced Aleppo Central Prison and captured Handaraat, thereby coming close to imposing a siege on rebel-held Aleppo. This would be a difficult task, as Aleppo presents more logistical challenges for the army, especially for pro-government groups such as Hezbollah, who prefer fighting closer to Lebanon. Tensions came to a head in early April 2014, when a Syrian Republican Guard officer allegedly murdered a Hezbollah commander during an argument over the opposition advance in al-Rashadin, and other pro-government militant groups sent as reinforcements, such as the National Defence Force, proved unreliable in combat. Second, rebels control more terrain in Aleppo than in other cities, so effectively cutting off access was more difficult. Third, rebels have a strong presence in the countryside and around the border crossings with Turkey. In April 2014 government commanders inside the city were saying that on the contrary to implementing such a strategy, "the best [they] can do in Aleppo is just secure ... positions". The attempted encirclement involves the SAA’s attacks on Bustan Al-Pasha, Khalidiyyeh, the farms of Mazra’a Halabi, Al-Amariyya and Bustan Al-Qaseer. The rebel's strategic victory at the Siege of Wadi Deif has resulted in several main government supply lines being threatened. This has cast doubt on government forces' ambitions to control the road extending from Hama to Aleppo and the Damascus-Aleppo international road, and has been seen as a personal defeat for Syrian Arab Army Col. Suheil Al Hassan.
United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura proposed a pause in fighting, but opinions were divided about implementation. The European Union has warned that "cases of forced surrender imposed by the Assad regime through starvation sieges were labelled fallaciously as local cease-fires in the past". The Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, which has been gaining ground in Deraa province south of Damascus has warned that a freeze in fighting in Aleppo could hamper their advance, as pro-Assad forces could be redirected from Aleppo.
The governments defeat at the Second Battle of Idlib in late March 2015, which helped expand the influence of the al-Nusra Front, forced ISIL to expand its attacks in central Syria, after it failed to block the Raqqa highway that branches out to the Syrian army's main supply route to Aleppo along the Khanasir-Athriya road. ISIL's aim would potentially be to establish the necessary conditions to eventually make an assault against Idlib and al-Nusra. The March–April ISIS offensive in central Syria led some volunteers defending the Homs-Aleppo highway to consider deserting to defend their hometowns. According to Jane's Information Group, a possible offensive on Homs by both al-Nusra Front and ISIS, working independently, would potentially force the government to move critical forces away from Aleppo to defend key supply routes. After additional opposition gains during the 2015 Jisr al-Shughur offensive, Jane's further asserted that it was no longer possible for the SAA to properly reinforce Aleppo leaving their forces vulnerable to any opposition or ISIS offensive on the city. If opposition forces decided to capitalise on their gains and launch an assault towards Latakia, the prospect of soldiers deserting was raised, in case they were not redeployed back to defend it, so they could themselves defend their homes against any potential rebel advance. Syrian government minister Faisal Mekdad stated in June 2015: "All our strategic planning now is to keep the way open to Aleppo, to allow our forces to defend it.”
- Syria – President Bashar al-Assad said on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the Syrian Arab Army in August 2012, that "the army is engaged in a crucial and heroic battle... on which the destiny of the nation and its people rests..."
- Armenia – Armenia began sending humanitarian aid to Aleppo in mid-October. The aid is distributed by Red Crescent, the Armenian National Prelacy in Aleppo, Aleppo Emergency unit and the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia to Syria. Governor of the Aleppo Governorate, Hilal Hial, said, "the Syrian people highly appreciate this humanitarian gesture of the Armenian people, underling the strong Syrian-Armenian cooperation."
- France – The French Foreign Ministry said, "With the build-up of heavy weapons around Aleppo, Assad is preparing to carry out a fresh slaughter of his own people", while Italy and the UN peacekeeping chief also accused the government of preparing to massacre civilians.
- Iran – As the battle of Aleppo started, Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, met with Assad in Damascus and vowed that Iran would help Assad to confront "attempts at blatant foreign interference" in Syria's internal affairs, declaring, "Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way."
- Russia – The Russian Foreign Ministry issued an official statement condemning the bombing that occurred on 9 September 2012 in which more than 30 people were killed. "We firmly condemn the terrorist acts which claim the lives of innocent people", stated the Ministry on 11 September. The Foreign Ministry also called the foreign powers to pressure the armed opposition to halt launching "terrorist attacks". The Russian Consulate General in Aleppo "suspended operations" on 16 January 2013.
- Turkey – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged international action, saying it was not possible "to remain a spectator" to the government offensive on Aleppo. Reuters reported that Turkey had set up a base with allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar for the purpose of directing military and communications aid to the Free Syrian Army from the city of Adana. Reuters also quoted a Doha-based source which stated that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were providing weapons and training to the rebel fighters.
- United Kingdom – William Hague, the British Foreign Minister, said, "the world must speak out to avert a massacre in Aleppo."
- United States – The United States stated it that feared a new massacre in Aleppo by the Syrian government: "This is the concern: that we will see a massacre in Aleppo and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for." The United States condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the government SCUD missile strikes on Aleppo in late February 2013, saying that they were "the latest of the Syrian regime's ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent".
- Battle of Damascus (2012)
- Siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa
- Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign
- Siege of Kobanî
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