The situation in Aleppo as of December 4–green areas under rebel control, red under government control, those dull yellow areas are the current frontlines (Wikimedia | Kami888)
According to Russia, the Syrian army has halted offensive actions in Aleppo and is focusing on evacuating civilians. Which may come as news to the rebels, who continue to report that the fighting is ongoing. The army has captured Aleppo’s Old City and rejected a rebel call for a five day ceasefire to allow evacuations. It’s not clear whether this halt, assuming it’s real, is related to those ongoing talks between the Russians and Americans on plans to try to get the rebels out of Aleppo instead of the civilians, but so far there’s been no indication of a breakthrough there. The government expects Aleppo’s fall to lead to a “domino effect” that will bury the rest of the rebellion, but the likelihood that the rebels will just surrender rather than transition into something more like a guerrilla resistance seems slim.
After going several days without any strikes, the Turkish air force struck a number of ISIS targets around al-Bab yesterday, killing a reported 23 fighters.
There are signs that Egypt may be considering sending forces to Syria to aid Assad, though so far Cairo is denying it. Sisi, as a Sunni and someone who relies to a significant extent on financial aid from some of Assad’s biggest foes (the Gulf monarchies), seems like a candidate to send aid to the rebels if anything. But Sisi also recognizes the value of helping out a fellow military dictator against Islamist rebels, given his own circumstances, and he and Assad seem to have a rapport. The fact that Riyadh hasn’t been making with the regular aid lately probably has Sisi feeling a little salty as well. Still, take this with a grain of salt; if anything, this may simply be Sisi’s way of getting King Salman’s attention.
A couple of days ago Iraqi forces announced that they’d made huge, sudden gains in Aleppo, moving close to the Tigris river and seizing al-Salam Hospital. Unfortunately, the Iraqis appear to have gotten too greedy, and yesterday a failure to consolidate their gains turned the hospital into an ISIS trap:
A few hours later, as the sun set Tuesday evening, the trap was sprung. First came the suicide car bombs, and then the hospital was surrounded by hundreds of militants firing bursts of heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
“We thought we were going to die, all we could think about was saving our lives,” Pvt. Mithad Abdulzahra of the Iraqi army’s 9th Division said later, as he recovered in a hospital bed in the nearby city of Irbil from gunshots that shattered his right arm. The IS fighters eventually fought their way inside the al-Salam hospital. Of the 100 or so Iraqi soldiers trapped there, nearly all were killed or wounded, he said.
Survivors were eventually able to retreat, but such is the problem with an operation that is taking longer than the politicians would like it to take. There’s pressure to advance too quickly, which is when things can go very wrong.
The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, is calling for an investigation into Iraqi airstrikes on the western town of al-Qaim yesterday that reportedly killed civilians. How many civilians were killed is a matter of some dispute. The government says it had credible intelligence that the houses it targeted were full of ISIS fighters.
To the west, the Popular Mobilization Units are struggling to maintain control over the road from Mosul to Tal Afar, and are being left to twist in the wind a bit as an Iraqi government force is assembled to enter Tal Afar itself. The PMU can’t attack Tal Afar without risking a Turkish response. Speaking of the western front, Reuters reported yesterday that the Iraqi government’s initial plan for the Mosul operation was to leave the west open so that civilians could flee Mosul and any ISIS fighters who were less than committed to the cause might have an escape corridor to Syria. The goal, after all, was to take back Mosul, not kill all the ISIS fighters there, so leaving them a way out could potentially have been pretty smart.
Well, as it turns out, Iran, Russia, and France objected–Iran and Russia to the idea that these fighters would be allowed to flee into Syria, and France to the idea that fighters could escape Mosul and eventually make their way to, say, France, to commit terror attacks. So the plan was changed to have the PMU close off the western route, and consequently hundreds of thousands of civilians are stuck inside the city and ISIS is committed to fighting to the death because they can’t really do anything else. On the plus side, I guess, the encirclement of the city has opened up new economic opportunities for people willing to smuggle civilians (the ones who can afford to pay, anyway) out of the city. Hilariously (in a morbid way), the smugglers may very well be ISIS fighters. The True Believers of ISIS literally never miss an opportunity to make some cash.
War on Terror