By William Tucker
Syrian opposition forces have followed up their assault on Damascus by seizing and holding territory in the northern city of Aleppo. The fighting in Aleppo is shaping up quite differently than the assault on Damascus. Rather than seize government building and force Assad loyalists to retake portions of the city block by block the opposition withdrew from Damascus after a few days of fighting. Aleppo thus far is a very different story. Rebels claim to control roughly half of the city and have not withdrawn in the face of artillery and airstrikes. Granted, the heavier munitions used by the regime are causing damage, but not a large casualty count among opposition fighters. This is not necessarily unusual, however, and Assad has positioned his ground forces outside Aleppo in preparation of a counterattack to retake the city.
The ground assault by Assad’s forces is imminent, but it should tell us a great deal about the capabilities of both the loyalists and the opposition military forces. Additionally, it will reveal some of the tactics the opposition may employ in other major cities. Keep in mind that opposition forces may withdraw from Aleppo, but that shouldn’t be construed as a defeat for the rebel movements. Rather, it would be a sign that the opposition is continuing to engage regime forces only in battles that can be won. With the Assad regime on the back foot time is favoring the opposition. Each successful strike increases the doubt of the regime loyalists about the viability of the current government and may induce them to defect. For now, the opposition seems content to set the time and place of each engagement with the regime. Aleppo may be a turning point, but it is also likely that the opposition is simply distracting the regime while preparing an assault elsewhere.