By Michael Cruickshank, @MJ_Cruickshank
Following days of heavy fighting, rebel forces have smashed through regime lines and managed to break the siege of Eastern Aleppo.
Six days ago, several coalitions of rebel groups in northern Syria, including Jaish al-Fatah and Fatah Halab began an offensive of unprecedented scale. Including amongst its ranks hardline Islamist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) as well as more moderate groups, the offensive aimed to break the siege of Eastern Aleppo.
The offensive began with a series of audacious attacks led by SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) strikes followed by amoured vehicles and backed by infantry. While the first day of the offensive saw significant gains, the following days saw the offensive stall out, and some areas were reclaimed by pro-regime forces. The primary obstacle to breaking the siege remained the Artillery School – a larger fortified regime-held complex that commanded fire control over surrounding areas.
On the 4th of August, however, rebel groups renewed their offensive, capturing several more strategic areas, but still not attempting to take the Artillery School. This all changed yesterday, when rebels launched a final assault on the complex. After shelling it with rockets, artillery and improvised mortars, a Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) SVBIED was detonated close to regime lines, providing an opening for the group’s Inghemasi (suicidal shock troops) too enter.
From there, other rebels groups began pressing into the Artillery School pushing regime forces back towards areas further north. By late afternoon, the rebel coalition Jaish al-Fatah had somewhat prematurely claimed control over much of the complex. In actual fact, clashes within the artillery school continued into the night, with pro-regime forces not being completely pushed out until early morning.
Upon daybreak, rebels group including JFS and Ahrar al-Sham had released drone and ground footage confirming that they were seemingly in control of the vast majority of the complex – with the exception of the Air Force Technical Division in the north. For there, the rebel groups battled to take the last 400m of regime held territory in the suburb of Ramouseh where they linked up with other rebel forces from within Eastern Aleppo.
This breakthrough is hugely significant for the wider Battle of Aleppo, as it breaks the siege imposed by regime forces just weeks ago. While many had viewed the siege as the beginning of the end for rebel forces in Syria, this recent strategic victory will put these notions to rest. Indeed, now regime forces find themselves in their own precarious position, with Western Aleppo now forced to resupply through a long and circuitous route to the north and then further east. More than anything else, this offensive shows that the War in Syria, now in its 5th year, is still far from over.
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