By: Genevieve Casagrande and Jennifer Cafarella
The Syrian armed opposition launched an offensive to break the regime’s siege of Aleppo City on October 28, marking the second major opposition counteroffensive to break the siege since its initial imposition on July 28. Opposition forces led by Jabhat Fatah al Sham (JFS) – successor of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra – and Salafi Jihadist group Ahrar al Sham successfully lifted the initial pro-regime siege of the city on August 6. Pro-regime forces with Russian air support, however, re-established the siege once again on September 4.
The offensive seeks to once again break the siege from the city’s southwestern outskirts, which favors the opposition’s style of warfare. The hardline Jaysh al Fatah Coalition – led by JFS and Ahrar al Sham – and the Aleppo-based Fatah Halab Operations Room seized the Dahiyat al Assad district in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo City on October 28 after JFS and Ahrar al Sham detonated at least three Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIEDs) and a remote-controlled bulldozer-borne IED in the area. The opposition is now attacking pro-regime forces to the north and south of Dahiyat al Assad, likely in an attempt to fix pro-regime forces in those positions and enable a penetration of the regime’s encirclement through the center.
The opposition is conducting numerous supporting efforts to prevent the regime from reinforcing southwestern Aleppo City and to disrupt Russian and regime airpower. Opposition forces burned tires to obstruct the visibility of warplanes over the city. Ahrar al Sham and other opposition groups also shelled numerous regime-held areas distant from the axis of attack in order to fix pro-regime forces across multiple fronts. Opposition forces may also intend to set conditions for a second major attack against pro-regime forces from inside the city. The target of the most considerable bombardment was the Nayrab Airbase in eastern Aleppo City, which the opposition claimed to target “Russian officers” with “hundreds” of grad rockets. The opposition may have intended either to disrupt the regime and Russian coordination of pro-regime forces in the city or disrupt the regime’s ability to conduct rotary-wing bombardment including chlorine gas canisters.
Turkish-backed opposition forces north of Aleppo City may join the operation to break the siege. Turkish-backed group Nour al Din al Zenki announced the formation of the “Victory Bloc” Operations Room under the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield. Zenki’s statement declared the opposition’s intent to “alleviate pressure on Aleppo City” and included vague references to targeting pro-regime forces. There is no indication that Turkey has authorized Zenki or other groups in Operation Euphrates Shield to participate in the operation to break the siege. These Turkish-backed forces would need to advance through Syrian Kurdish YPG-held terrain north of Aleppo City in order to reach a front line with pro-regime forces. Zenki’s statement may indicate that it and other rebel groups north of Aleppo City may nonetheless shell pro-regime held areas, further suppressing pro-regime forces inside the city to enable opposition groups to break the siege.