Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Regime Takes as-Safira and Continues Push to Aleppo

Regime elements overran the city of as-Safira on Friday, November 1st, after a siege and bombing campaign that lasted more than three weeks and drove more than 100,000 civilians from the city. As-Safira, located only 15 km southeast of Nayrab Air Base (co-located with Aleppo Int’l Airport), is a key point along the regime’s only usable ground supply line from Hama and also houses some of the largest chemical weapons production facilities in the country. After taking the city, regime forces continued to push northwest toward Aleppo, and appear poised to open a supply line to the embattled Nayrab Air Base. In addition, the regime may attempt to alleviate the siege on nearby Kuweiris Air Base, located almost 30km east of Nayrab Air Base, which has been ongoing for months.

One of the principal factors that contributed to the rebel defeat in as-Safira was a lack of coordination. This is evidenced by the recent resignation of Colonel Abdul Jabar Akidi, the Supreme Military Council’s top leader in Aleppo and the head of the FSA-affiliated Safira Operations Room. After the city fell, Col. Akidi issued a scathing video statement in which he accused the National Coalition of failing to support his command adequately and blamed a number of rebel groups for seeking to hold captured territory rather than coming to defend as-Safira itself.

The Safira Operations Room echoed Col. Akidi’s sentiments, saying rebel groups failed to deploy enough fighters into as-Safira and singling out the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in particular as not having a single fighter inside the city. Jihadist sources pushed back against this allegation and instead blamed other groups for surrendering as-Safira, highlighting further the disunity present among the rebels.

The fall of as-Safira, which had served as a rallying point for a number of rebel groups in the region, including powerful Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, is a major blow to the rebel campaign in southern Aleppo province. By controlling as-Safira and accompanying villages along the road to Hama, rebels had made regime resupply from its southern strongholds nearly impossible, and if the regime is able to hold onto its recent gains it could threaten rebel positions in Aleppo province as a whole.