Battle of Aleppo (2012–present)

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Battle of Aleppo
معركة حلب
Part of the Syrian Civil War
Rif Aleppo2.svg
The situation in Aleppo, as of 15 August 2015

     Syrian Army control      Opposition control      Kurdish control      Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

     Ongoing confrontation or unclear situation
Date 19 July 2012 – present
(3 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 1 day)
Location Aleppo, Syria
  • The FSA captures numerous districts in the southern and northeastern parts of the city in late July 2012; the PYD takes control of two districts in the northern part of the city
  • The Syrian Army recaptures several districts in August and September 2012
  • Several rebel offensives are repelled by Syrian government troops in the autumn of 2012[29][30][31]
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site Ancient City of Aleppo largely destroyed in the fighting[32]
  • In mid-October 2012, rebels capture the town of Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib province, effectively cutting the main Syrian Army supply line from the south to Aleppo, via the M5 highway[33][34]
  • In early October 2013, the Syrian Army reopens a supply line from the south to Aleppo, via the town of Khanaser on the so-called "Desert Road"[35][36]
  • In November 2013, the Syrian Army captured Base 80, north of the city airport,[37] and by late February 2014, Syrian troops had advanced from the east towards the Industrial district[38]
  • In January 2014, ISIL is expelled from the city by other rebel groups[39]
  • In April 2014, the Ahl Al-Sham rebel coalition establishes a truce with the PYD[40]
  • Between late May and early October 2014, the Syrian Army breaks the Aleppo prison siege (after 13 months)[41] and captures the Sheik Said industrial zone[42] and the strategic village of Handarat[43]
  • Between late February and March 2015, government offensive captures two villages north of Aleppo,[44][45] but fails in its main objective to cut rebel supply lines.[46][47] Subsequent rebel counterattack on Handarat is repelled.[48]
  • In June and July 2015, rebels capture the Rashideen district[49] and the Scientific Research Center[49][50]

Syria Syrian National Coalition/SRCC

Ansar al-Sharia[7]


Syria Syrian Arab Republic

Iranian IRGC[25]
Badr Organisation[27]

Haidar al-Karar Brigades[28]
Commanders and leaders
Formerly Abdel-Jabbar Ukaidi
(FSA Aleppo top commander)[51]
Abdullatif Abdullatif
(FSA Aleppo deputy commander)[52]
Abdul Qader Saleh [53]
(Al-Tawhid Brigade top commander)[54]
Yusef al-Jader 
(Al-Tawhid Brigade)[55]
Yussef Al-Abbas [56]
(Al-Tawhid Brigade)
Khaled Hayani 
(16th Division [FSA] (Shuhada Badr) military commander)[57]
Ebu Mohammed Suleiman
(Sultan Abdulhamid Han Brigade)[58]
Abu Mohammad
(Kata ib-Essalam)[59]
Taufik Shiabuddin
(Army of Mujahedeen)[60][61]
Abu Khalid al-Suri 
(Islamic Front)[62]
Abdulrahman al-Salameh
(Al-Nusra Front)[63]
Nujin Derik[64]
(YPG commander)
Sewsen Bîrhat [16] (YPJ commander)

Ali Abdullah Ayyoub
(Chief of the General Staff)
Maher al-Assad
(4th Division)
Suheil al-Hasan
(Head of Aleppo military operations)[65]
Mohammed Akkad
(Governor of Aleppo)[66]
Abbas Samii  
(Republican Guard Commander)[67][68]
General Jabbar Drisawi 
(IRGC General)
Fauzi Ayub 
(Lebanese-Canadian Hezbollah commander)[69]
Zaino Berri  Executed
(al-Berri tribe leader)[24]

Akram al-Kabi
(Haidar al-Karar Brigades leader)[28]
Units involved

Elements of:

Elements of: 1st Corps:

Independent units:


15,000 fighters

(rebel claims)
6,000–8,000 fighters[94]
(government claims)[95]

20,000 troops mobilized[96]
1,500 Shabiha[97]
Hezbollah fighters:

  • 2,000 (Hezbollah commander claim)
  • 4,000 (FSA claim)[98]
10,800+ overall deaths and 4,500+ missing (by April 2013)[99]
22,980 overall deaths in the whole province (by early July 2015)[100]
Battle of Aleppo (2012–present) is located in Syria
Battle of Aleppo (2012–present)
The location of Aleppo within Syria
The situation in Aleppo, as of July 2015      Syrian Army control      Opposition control      Kurdish control      Ongoing confrontation or unclear situation

The Battle of Aleppo (Arabic: معركة حلب‎) is an ongoing military confrontation between the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, People's Defence Units and Sunni militants against the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Shiite militants, in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria.[27] The battle began on 19 July 2012 as a part of the Syrian Civil War.[101] The battle's scale and importance led combatants to name it the "mother of battles".[102] The battle has been marked by the Syrian army's indiscriminate use of barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, killing thousands of people.[103][104][105] Hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate. The London-based organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denounced the Free Syrian Army for its indiscriminate bombardment of government-held districts with gas cylinders filled with explosives, which resulted in hundreds of casualties.[106] The battle has caused catastrophic destruction to the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site.[107]


Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Aleppo in July 2012, nationwide protests against the government led by President Bashar al-Assad had occurred since 15 March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. The inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, were initially largely uninvolved. As well as opposition protests,[108] government-organized rallies in support of itself were held.[109] Fighting in Aleppo governorate began on 10 February 2012. Over the next five months, major clashes left rebels in control of large parts of the countryside while the provincial capital, Aleppo city, remained firmly in government control. On 19 July 2012, rebel forces stormed the city and the battle for Aleppo began.[101]


At the beginning of the Battle of Aleppo, rebels reportedly had between 6,000[110] and 7,000[111] fighters in 18 battalions.[112] The largest rebel group was the al-Tawhid Brigade; the most prominent was the Free Syrian Army, which was largely composed of army defectors. Most of the rebels came from the Aleppo countryside and from towns including Al-Bab, Marea, Azaz, Tel Rifaat and Manbij.[113] A resident of Aleppo reportedly accused the rebels of using civilian homes for shelter.[114] On 19 November 2012, the rebel fighters—particularly the al-Tawhid Brigade and the al-Nusra Front—initially rejected the newly formed Syrian National Coalition.[115] The next day the rebels withdrew their rejection.[116]

By December, rebel fighters were commonly looting for supplies; they switched their loyalties to groups that had more to share. This new approach led to the killing of at least one rebel commander following a dispute; fighters retreating with their loot caused the loss of a frontline position and the failure of an attack on a Kurdish neighborhood. The looting cost the rebel fighters much popular support.[117]

Islamic extremists and foreign fighters, many of whom were experienced and came from the ongoing insurgency in neighboring Iraq, joined the battle.[71] Jihadists reportedly came from across the Muslim World.[75] Jacques Bérès, a French surgeon who treated wounded fighters, reported a significant number of foreign fighters, most of whom had Islamist goals and were not directly interested in Bashar al-Assad. They included Libyans, Chechens and Frenchmen. Bérès contrasted the situation in Aleppo with that in Idlib and Homs, where foreign forces were not common.[118] Some FSA brigades cooperated with Mujahideen fighters.[71]

The government retained support in Aleppo. A rebel commander said, "around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime". During the course of the battle, Assad lost support from Aleppo's wealthy class.[119] CBS News reported that 48 elite businessmen who were the primary financiers for the government switched sides.[120] For the first time, the Syrian Army engaged in urban warfare. They divided their forces into groups of 40 soldiers each. These were armed mostly with automatic rifles and anti-tank rockets. Artillery, tanks and helicopters were only used for support. In August 2012, the army deployed its elite units.[121] 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.[122] The Christians supported the Army and formed militias aligned with the government following the capture of their quarters by the Syrian Army.[17][18] The Christian Armenians also supported the Syrian Army. Aleppo's Armenians say Turkey supported the FSA to attack Armenians and Arab Christians. The Armenians had a militia with around 150 fighters.[19]

At the beginning of the battle, Aleppo's Kurds formed armed groups, most notably the Kurdish Salahaddin Brigade, which worked with the opposition. 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 the FSA stay out of the Kurdish area. They did not initially fight the Syrian Army unless attacked,[123] but later joined the opposition against pro-Assad forces. The Kurdish areas in Aleppo were mainly under PYD control.[52] Four hundred Turkmen joined the battle under Sultan Abdulhamid Han.[58]

Course of the Battle[edit]

2012 – Initial rebel attack and capture of Eastern Aleppo[edit]

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.[124] After one week of the war, The Guardian wrote

The US says it fears that the Assad regime is "lining up" to commit a massacre in Aleppo, but it has repeated its reluctance to intervene in the conflict.[125]

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.[126] 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.[127] They also captured Al-Bab, northeast of the city with an army base.[128] Later, rebels attacked the Minakh air base, 30 km northwest of Aleppo, with arms and tanks captured at the Anadan checkpoint.[129] Opposition forces continued to make territorial gains in the city, controlling most of eastern and southwestern Aleppo, including Salaheddine and parts of Hamdaniyeh.[130] They continued to target security centers and police stations, as clashes erupted near the Air Force intelligence headquarters in Aleppo's northwestern Zahraa district.[131] 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.[130]

2013 – Advances and counter-advances[edit]

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.[132] After multiple attacks on Aleppo International Airport, all flights were suspended on 1 January 2013.[133] The following month, the rebels seized the Umayyad Mosque. However, during the battle, the museum of the mosque caught fire and its ceiling collapsed.[134]

On 9 June, the Army announced the start of operation "Northern Storm", in an attempt to recapture territory in and around the city.[135] 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.[136]

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 government were victorious then it would cut their route between the city and al-Bab.[137] Two days later, Reuters reported that the rebels had "regrouped" to fight the army.[138] Though fifteen rebels were killed, the army was successful in recapturing the army base.[139]

The following month, the army sieged the city in Operation Canopus Star.[140] 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.[141]

2014 – Government encirclement of the rebels[edit]

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.

A ceasefire proposal was presented by a UN envoy in November, under which the Syrian Arab Army would allow the rebels to leave the city of Aleppo without any violence and would help in their transportation. In return the militants would have to give up their arms. President Bashar al-Assad reportedly "agreed to take this ceasefire plan under consideration", though no official confirmation was made.[142] However, this plan was rejected by the Free Syrian Army. FSA's military commander Zaher al-Saket commented that they had "learned not to trust the [Bashar-al] Assad regime because they are cunning and only want to buy time."[143]

2015 – War of attrition[edit]

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,[144][145] 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.[146] At the end of January, the rebels took control over some positions in al-Brej Hill.[147][148]

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.[149] They quickly captured several villages;[150] however, bad weather conditions and an inability to call up reinforcements ultimately stalled the government offensive.[151] A few days later, rebels launched a counter-offensive, retaking two out of four positions lost to government forces.[152]

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.[153] It was initially reported by Daily Star that opposition forces captured Handarat, north of Aleppo.[154] 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.[155][156] A military source stated they still controlled 80% of Handarat,[157] while a rebel field commander claimed that opposition forces controlled 75%.[153]

On 18 March, after almost 10 days of fighting,[158] the military fully expelled the rebels from Handarat[159] and re-established control of the village.[160]

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.[161] On 17 June, rebel forces captured the western neighborhood of Rashideen from government forces.[49][162] The rebels also captured Tal Al-Afghani hill, near Bashkoy, north of the city. However, government troops recaptured the hill on 19 June.[163][164] Throughout 19 and 20 June, a new round of rebel shelling killed 19 more civilians.[165][166] 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.[167]

In early July, an offensive was launched by two rebel coalitions against the western government-held half of the city.[168] 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.[50][169]

Strategic analysis[edit]

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.[170] 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.[171] 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".[172]

On 26 November 2012, rebels captured Tishrin Dam, further isolating government forces in Aleppo with only one route into Aleppo remaining.[173] 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.[174] By late February 2013, the Aleppo international airport was almost totally surrounded by rebel forces.[175] Later, the Syrian army regained control of the strategic Tel Sheigeb town allowing them to approach the airport.[176] In November 2013, the Syrian army retook the town of al-Safira.[177] 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.[178] 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,[179] and other pro-government militant groups sent as reinforcements, such as the National Defence Force, proved unreliable in combat.[180][181] 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.[182] 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".[183] 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.[184] The rebel's strategic victory at the Siege of Wadi Deif has resulted in several main government supply lines being threatened.[185] 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.[186]

United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura proposed a pause in fighting, but opinions were divided about implementation.[187] 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".[188] 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.[189]

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.[190] The March–April ISIS offensive in central Syria led some volunteers defending the Homs-Aleppo highway to consider deserting to defend their hometowns.[191] 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.[192] 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.[193] 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.”[194]


Domestic reaction[edit]

  •  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..."[195]

Foreign reactions[edit]

  •  Armenia – Armenia began sending humanitarian aid to Aleppo in mid-October.[196] 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."[197]
  •  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.[198]
  •  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."[199]
  •  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".[200] The Russian Consulate General in Aleppo "suspended operations" on 16 January 2013.[201]
  •  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.[202] 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.[203]
  •  United Kingdom – William Hague, the British Foreign Minister, said, "the world must speak out to avert a massacre in Aleppo."[204]
  •  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."[205] 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".[206]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°13′N 37°10′E / 36.217°N 37.167°E / 36.217; 37.167