Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ISW Warning Intelligence Update: Regime Offensive in Aleppo

by ISW Syria Team

ISW is issuing a Warning Intelligence update concerning reports of an upcoming regime offensive in Aleppo city.

Regime operations escalate in Aleppo city:

  • On July 3, regime forces seized large swaths of the Sheikh Najjar industrial complex in northern Aleppo city after conducting 20 air raids in 24 hours.
  • On July 4, regime forces seized the villages of Kafr Saghir and Moqbila near the Sheikh Najjar industrial area north-east of Aleppo city in an attempt to cut rebel supply routes between northern Aleppo countryside and Aleppo city.
  • On July 7, the regime conducted operations to seize the Infantry School on the northwestern edge of Sheikh Najjar, on the outskirts of Aleppo city. The school serves as a major rebel base and was the location of former Tawheed brigade leader Abdul Qader Saleh’s assassination in November, 2013. According to al-Akhbar, the regime has reinforced the area with Republican Guard units which have begun integrating with NDF forces in the city.
  • On July 8, clashes continue between regime and rebel forces near Sheikh Najjar as we as around the Air force Intelligence building in western Aleppo city.

Rebel Responses:

  • On July 2, head of the Ahl al-Sham Operations Room Hussein Assaf issued an alert and called for reinforcements from other fronts.
  • On July 7, the head of Aleppo’s Provincial Council, Abdul Rahman Dadam, issued a warning of the “imminent encirclement” of Aleppo city following regime advances in the city.
  • On July 8, Idlib-based rebel groups formed a “quick response unit” of 600 fighters pledging to support rebels in fighting the regime and ISIS in Aleppo. The groups include the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, Jabhat al-Nusra, Sham Legion, Suqour al-Sham, Harakat Hazm, FSA 13th Division, Fursan al-Haq, and Jabhat Thuwar Saraqib.
  • On July 8, Liwa Dawud, a prominent rebel group operating in Idlib province defected to ISIS. According to pro-opposition news site Aks al-Ser, Liwa Dawud was en route from Idlib to Aleppo in a convoy of 130 vehicles to reinforce rebel positions when it changed course and headed to ar-Raqqa.
  • On July 8, Jabhat Thuwar Saraqib issued a statement of general alarm after a rebel faction abandoned the front lines. Although the statement does not name the rebel faction by name, it is likely in reference to Liwa Dawud’s defection to ISIS.

After exploiting intense fighting between rebel forces and ISIS in early 2014, the regime was on the offensive in Aleppo city and posturing to besiege rebel-held neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. In April, rebel forces launched a diversionary offensive in Latakia which diverted pro-regime forces from other fronts, ultimately stalling regime gains in Aleppo city. Following a series of operations to seize the Sheikh Najjar industrial area, the regime appears poised to reinvigorate its offensive in order to implement its ‘siege and starve’ tactics against rebel positions in Aleppo city.

Following ISIS resurgence in Iraq, the group has begun to reestablish its presence in northern Aleppo province along the Turkish border, amidst clashes with rebel groups in the area. Should the regime’s offensive to besiege Aleppo city continue, it is likely that ISIS will capitalize on clashes between regime and rebel forces to further expand its areas of control in north and north-western areas of the Syrian countryside. Significantly, rebel responses to a potential regime offensive demonstrate awareness of a need to reinforce Aleppo against both regime and ISIS forces.