Liberation of Aleppo
THE liberation of eastern Aleppo from the clutches of jihadi forces after a struggle lasting over four and a half years, signals the complete unraveling of the plot that was hatched to bring about regime change in Syria. It is “game over” for the west and its regional proxies in Syria. With the ouster of the rebels from the last remaining pockets of eastern Aleppo, the Syrian government now has complete control of all the major cities in the country. President Bashar al Assad described the liberation of the entire city as a historic turning point. He praised the people of Aleppo for their courage and their will to resist the terrorists and the Syrian Arab Army for its courage and sacrifices. The president said that “what is happening today is history is being written by every Syrian citizen”. He said that the writing had started six years ago “when the crisis and the war on Syria began”. Besides the capital, Damascus, the other main cities – Homs and Hama are under the firm control of the secular government. These cities, where the bulk of population lives, is known as “Syria's southern spine”.
The rebels now only have influence in sparsely populated areas like Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus. Raqqa, a small city which remains under the control of the Daesh (the so-called Islamic State), is under siege from all sides. President Assad has said that the next priority is to clear the rebels from the vicinity of Damascus and then focus on eliminating them from Idlib province situated on the west of Aleppo and Palmyra. In Idlib, it is the al Nusra which holds sway while in Palmyra, it is the Daesh that has a major presence. The overstretched Syrian army is not in a position to take on the rebels. Washington and its allies wanted to use the presence of the jihadists they had armed and trained in Aleppo as an important card to wrest diplomatic and military concessions from the Syrian government and its allies when peace talks are resumed at Geneva.
Till the very end, the Obama administration tried its best to prevent the total liberation of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and commercial capital. According to declassified reports, the CIA was spending as much as $1 billion every year to help train and arm the jihadi forces in Aleppo and other places. The Americans have tried to help groups like the al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham by selectively bombing Syrian military targets. The targeting of the Syrian army in October even as a humanitarian truce was in place in Aleppo by the American air force, is an illustration.
As Syrian forces moved in to flush out the opposition fighters from the last pockets of resistance, Washington tried to get the UN Security Council to intervene and slow down the liberation of Aleppo. The western sponsored resolution had called for a seven day humanitarian pause. When the rebels were pounding the civilian populace of Aleppo at the beginning of the war, there were no efforts from the West to bring into effect a ceasefire. Russia and China however allowed the passage of a unanimous Security Council resolution that would allow UN monitors on the ground in Aleppo once all the rebels holding out in Aleppo surrender or are neutralised.
The western media was full of stories about schools, hospitals and orphanages in eastern Aleppo being targeted. All the reports were based on stories provided by the well oiled jihadi propaganda machine. There was not a single western correspondent on the ground in eastern Aleppo as the Syrian forces closed in. The Syrian government's concerted attempts at preventing unnecessary bloodshed were ignored by the western governments. Instead, false comparisons were drawn by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power with the massacres in Srebrenica in 1995 and Rwanda in 1994. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, accused the Syrian government of “carrying out nothing short of a massacre” in Aleppo. Kerry also issued a dire warning saying that the “fall of Aleppo” will not “end the war in Syria”.
The brutal tactics employed by the American forces in Falluja and other parts of the world have rarely been mentioned as comparisons. The hypocrisy of the West was all the more glaring given the fact that US air force is using massive firepower against the residents of Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city in the ongoing fight against the Daesh. More than a million people are trapped in Mosul. The fight to free Mosul is expected to be much bloodier than that was witnessed in eastern Aleppo. The Americans and their allies have refused to acknowledge the documented war crimes committed by their all weather ally, Saudi Arabia in the war they have unleashed against Yemen. The American and British bombs and missiles used by the Saudi air force have already killed over 11,000 civilians in the impoverished country in the last twenty one months.
Though much of eastern Aleppo has been reduced to rubble, the numbers of casualties along with the numbers of the people trapped there was exaggerated by the western media and even by international refugee agencies. Syrian government had been saying that not more than 1,00,000 people were residing in eastern Aleppo during the final weeks of the siege. The UN had put the number of civilians in Aleppo during the siege at between 2,00,000 and 2,50,000. The western media rarely bothered to mention the attacks on hospitals and schools in the much more populous western part of the city that was under government control. One of the first major terrorist acts of the jihadi forces led by the Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate, was the bombing and destruction of Aleppo's biggest government run hospital.
Instead, the western governments and the media focused on fake stories of mass massacres during the fight to liberate eastern Aleppo. There were some reports of pro-government militias going on the rampage and of summary executions. The UN reported 82 cases of summary killings. Many were killed by rebels as they tried to escape to government controlled areas. But it was nothing on the scale of mass beheading and killings that the Daesh have indulged in and advertised. The UN had also reported that the rebels had used civilians as “human shield” during the fight and had prevented them from fleeing to the western part of the city. Both the Syrian and Russian governments had been trying for weeks before the final onslaught on eastern Aleppo began, to get the civilian population safely out of the conflict zone. The Syrian army and the Russian air force had suspended their military attacks for almost a month to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from the besieged parts of eastern Aleppo.
The liberation of eastern Aleppo will now help the tens of thousands of displaced residents to return to their houses. Under a deal reached with the rebel groups, their fighters have been allowed to leave Aleppo to join rebel groups in Idlib province, which is among the last remaining province under their control. Under the terms of the deal, long besieged people in two Shia dominated villages were allowed safe passage by the rebels. One reason why the Syrian government is allowing the rebels the option of leaving unharmed is because a few pro government areas like Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria and eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, continue to be blockaded by the Daesh. A deal, similar to the one worked out in Aleppo, could be replicated in these places too. President Assad has offered amnesty to all Syrian citizens fighting with the rebels. All those willing to surrender and return to civilian life or joining the government's fight against terrorism will be reintegrated back into civil society.
The Syrian government will be happy if neighbouring countries like Turkey cooperate in the repatriation of foreign fighters who had flooded Syria in the last five years. Most of them had entered Syria with the tacit encouragement and cooperation of the Turkish government. Even today, the support for the jihadi groups continues, both in a direct and indirect way. The Saudis and the Qataris continue to pour in funds for groups like the al Nusra and the Ahrar al Sham. When the Daesh attacked Palmyra again in early December, the American air force was not seen in action. Most of the sorties against the approaching Daesh column was by the Russian air force.
As the temporary military reverse in Palmyra has indicated, the victory in Aleppo will not mean that the war will end very soon but there is light at the end of the tunnel. President Assad has said that the liberation of Aleppo “won't mean the end of the war in Syria, but it will be a huge step towards this end”. The decisive Russian military intervention in 2015 at the request of the Syrian government has been crucial along with the consistent support of Iran and the battle hardened Hezbollah fighters. The rebels, most of them either affiliated to the al Qaeda or aligned with the Daesh, have not yet been abandoned by all their patrons. But support for them seems to be definitely waning. Turkey now is more concerned with its domestic politics and the threat posed to its territorial integrity by the separatist Kurdish PKK and their Syrian affiliate. America is backing the Kurds in Syria and helping them in their efforts to carve out an autonomous enclave bordering Turkey. This design is being opposed tooth and nail by Ankara.
The meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran in the third week of December to chart out a course for establishing a lasting peace in Syria, is an encouraging development. The United States was pointedly excluded from the meeting. The talks were held as scheduled despite the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The assassination was a clear attempt to disrupt the talks and create a new rift between Moscow and Ankara. Indications are that the Turkish government may reverse its policy on Syria. It may use its influence on the fighters now concentrated in Idlib to give up and enter into talks with the government in Damascus. The safe passage for the opposition fighters in eastern Aleppo was negotiated by Russian and Turkish diplomats.