Open Border War in Aleppo: Syrian Army Retreats to Bashkoy

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A Syrian rebel fighter stands on a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. AFP/Zein al-Rifai

By: Suhaib Anjarini

Published Saturday, February 21, 2015

The first offensive by the Syrian army and its allies failed to meet its objectives of completing the cordon of Aleppo and breaking the siege of Nubol and al-Zahraa. Nevertheless, the army was able to hold on to its gains in the town of Bashkoy, after withdrawing from the town of Hardatnin. Pending other imminent rounds, the battles could still pan out in a number of different ways.

Aleppo — The battles in Aleppo have become the most prominent arena of the vast Syrian battlefield. This is to be expected given the city’s significance, as well as its central role in determining the next phase in northern Syria. Aside from the media frenzy of each side’s respective supporters, there is an important detail worth keeping in mind: winning a battle does not mean winning the war.

The Syrian army and its allies want to achieve two strategic goals: completing the cordon around Aleppo, and lifting the siege on the towns of Nubol and al-Zahraa. Naturally, thwarting either of these two goals is a priority for the armed groups.

The recent offensive is the culmination of a longstanding plan initiated by the Syrian army and its allies. All has gone according to this plan so far. The last phase, however, seems to be as difficult as all the previous ones combined, due to a number of factors.

First of all, the battle is decisive to the armed groups. Second, these groups can bring in supplies, men, and other material easily from the countryside and Turkey. The current battles are taking place in the closest point to the strongholds of the armed groups, in the northern countryside and by the Syrian-Turkish border.

The army on the eve of the battle

Before the recent battle began, the army and its allies discussed which goal was more important: completing the cordon around the city of Aleppo by seizing the Castillo road, or lifting the siege on Nubol and al-Zahraa. It was then decided to try and achieve both goals at once.

The zero hour was set. The attack plan relied on a hybrid of conventional and guerrilla tactics. Strike groups were assigned to infiltrate certain targets and attack the defenders, reaching all the way to Nubol al-Zahra. Next, larger formations would advance and station at those points, while other formations would initiate battles on other fronts relying primarily on fire support.

The armed groups

The armed groups along all fronts adopted a deployment strategy of “separate but connected,” in which each group is tasked with defending a certain position. The armed groups deployed in this manner for many reasons, mainly because of the difficulty of unifying all groups under one military command and due to the mistrust between different groups.

The deployment tactic means each group is responsible if it is breached or it withdraws, without affecting other groups. Before the army and its allies began the latest offensive, the armed groups did not take the reports of an imminent attack seriously, understanding them as a ploy of psychological warfare.

The initial shock absorbed

The attack came as a surprise. The armed groups collapsed in some parts. The advancing groups were able to seize the targeted positions (Hardatnin, Rayan, and Bashkoy), and the support groups advanced as planned and took over those positions.

On the other side, the armed groups rallied to prevent a total collapse. Groups from al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal Ansar moved quickly — to a lesser degree, the al-Safwa Brigades — and intervened in the battles from several fronts. This restored the balance to the armed groups, which had almost collapsed.

“Psychological mobilization” was also effective. Rumors were circulated in the countryside regions controlled by the armed groups saying the Syrian army and its allies intend to spare no one, commit massacres, rape women, and so on. Anyone with arms rushed to the fight to “prevent the catastrophe.” Meanwhile, new advanced supplies came through the Turkish border, according to reports.

As a result, the initial shock of the attack was absorbed. This was reflected in the battlefield, where the scale was tipped in favor of the militants.

Latest developments

The army and its allies retreated in a number of places, most notably Ratyan and Mazarei al-Mallah. The armed groups besieged Hardatnin before they entered the town last night, as the army retreated to Bashkoy.

The priority of the army at present seems to try to hold on to its positions in Bashkoy, while the armed groups are trying to carry out attacks behind the army lines of Mazarei al-Fallah. However, the armed groups may not be able to hold on to Mazarei al-Fallah in light of the army’s insistence on retaking it as quickly as possible.

Mazarei al-Fallah is a strategic position. A month ago, it was in the hands of the Syrian army, before the militants seized it two weeks ago. On the morning of the last battle, the army seized it again, before it fell into the militants’ hands yesterday, specifically to Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal Ansar led by Salahuddin al-Shishani. On Friday, the Syrian army began attacks on Mazarei al-Fallah.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


"new advanced supplies came through the Turkish border" Did these advanced supplies from Turkey also contained Turkish soldiers?

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