MESOP : RUSSIAN AIRSTRIKES IN SYRIA 1 – 7 th February 2016 – By the ISW Syria Team
Russia’s four month long air campaign has set conditions for the encirclement of Aleppo. Pro-regime forces backed by heavy Russian airstrikes severed one of two opposition supply lines into Aleppo City from the Turkish border on February 3 when they pushed northwest of the city to reestablish a regime supply line to the besieged regime towns of Nubl and Zahra’a. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters and Iranian-backed Shi’a militia forces played a prominent role in the offensive, demonstrating the lethality of combined Russian air and Iranian ground operations against the opposition in Syria.
Reports of Russian Spetnaz activity at unspecified locations in Aleppo Province likely indicate the involvement of these forces in the operation. The gains position pro-regime forces to encircle opposition-held portions of Aleppo City by severing the last remaining opposition supply line that runs east from the Turkish border into the city. The regime can sever this final supply line at two locations: an outer location northwest of Aleppo City on the road to the Turkish border that passes through the towns of Huraytan and Kafr Hamra, or an inner location in the city’s eastern sector controlled by the armed opposition, such as the Hanano District. Russia’s air campaign has consistently targeted the outer location for the past three months, indicating that this is where pro-regime forces intend to complete the encirclement. This section of the supply line runs through rural terrain that Russian airpower can easily target and Iranian-backed ground forces can ultimately seize, whereas the inner location is more difficult as the terrain includes both topographic and urban barriers to rapid ground offensives. Pro-regime forces are meanwhile taking steps to buffer their forward line of troops (FLOT) to the north of Aleppo to make it possible to sustain the encirclement. Pro-regime forces will likely complete the encirclement of Aleppo in coming weeks and besiege the opposition inside the city in order to force Turkey and Saudi Arabia to concede to a negotiated settlement or ceasefire.