“The huge Assad assault — regime reinforcements were sent to the city this weekend in what Damascus calls a ‘decisive final battle’ — is testing not only the endurance of an estimated quarter-of-a-million civilians trapped, bombed on and starving in the eastern pocket.
It is testing the rebel forces — to the breaking point, fear diplomats, analysts and some rebel leaders.
‘Can they hold out? No, sadly no, from a military point of view, of course, they can’t,’ says Gen. Salim Idris, a former commander-in-chief of the Free Syrian Army.”
Islamic extremists overran three towns in northern Syria this weekend, capturing them from Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Islamist brigades as Syrian warplanes struck widely across the north of the country, dropping barrel bombs on towns controlled by both competing insurgent groups.
Despite FSA claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, were coordinating their attacks, two of the biggest barrel bombs were dropped on the town of Al Bab, controlled by Islamic State.
“A battle is taking shape that could decide the fate of the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating ISIS, and it’s not around the Kurdish town of Kobani. It’s for the future of the second biggest city in Syria, ancient Aleppo, besieged on three sides by the forces of the tyrant Bashar Assad and the murderous zealots of the so-called Islamic State holding part of the other side.
For the relatively moderate Syrian militias to whom the Obama administration already is funneling arms, the neighborhoods of Aleppo where they still hold ground are a last redoubt inside the country. And in the next few hours or days their last supply line to the outside very likely will be cut.”
In VOA today I explore behind-the-scenes efforts by the West and Saudi Arabia to nudge their favored rebels to adjust to a more southern military strategy in the Syrian civil war — in a shift that analysts say is a bid to strengthen the moderate armed opposition at the expense of hard-line Islamists. Most analysts I spoke to thought this couldn’ be pulled off. Read the article here.
The U.S.-Russia brokered peace talks underway in Switzerland are already demonstrating through sharp clashes their slim chance of success but even before delegates arrived all the signs pointed to the conference being an epic failure. Read my piece on why here at the Daily Beast.
“While the international media focuses on whether al Qaeda has latched onto the escalating Syrian conflict, opposition activists and human-rights observers are less alarmed than the Pentagon about the trickle of foreign fighters arriving in the war-torn country than about the home-grown hardening of sectarian attitudes among Syrians and the adoption by rebels of more muscular Islamist views.” See my Daily Beast dispatch.