By: David McDonald
The Battle of Aleppo is one of the most important components of the ongoing Syrian civil war. In 2011, Aleppo was Syria's largest city with a population of some 2.5 million people and was described as Syria's commercial capital. Today the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in ruins and facing one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Vietnam War.
Tensions within Syria had been brewing since protests against the Bashar Al-Assad government began in March 2011 and the public demonstrations ultimately reached Aleppo roughly a year later. At the beginning of the Battle of Aleppo, rebels reportedly had roughly 7,000 fighters in 18 battalions. The largest rebel group was the al-Tawhid Brigade and the most prominent was the Free Syrian Army (FSA), largely composed of army defectors. Most of the rebels came from the Aleppo countryside and towns such as Al-Bab, Marea, Azaz, Tel Rifaat and Manbij.
Course of the Battle
2012: Initial rebel attack and capture of eastern Aleppo
Free Syrian Army engaged on an offensive attack in Aleppo in July and early August, leaving many casualties. Rebel commanders said their main objective was to capture the city center. They secured a strategic checkpoint in the town of Anadan just north of Aleppo, and captured Al-bab, an army base northeast of the city. During this time, rebels targeted security centers and police stations in an attempt to cripple the Syrian hub.
2013: Advances and counter-advances
After multiple attacks on Aleppo International Airport, all flights were suspended on January 1. The following month, the rebels seized Umayyad Mosque.
On June 9, the Syrian Army announced the start of "Operation Northern Storm"to recapture territories in and around the city. Between June 7-14, army troops, government militiamen and Hezbollah fighters took part in the operation. Over that one-week period, government forces advanced in the city and the countryside, pushing back the rebels. However, according to an opposition activist, the situation started reversing on June 14 after the rebels halted an armored reinforcement column from Aleppo that was heading for two Shiite villages northwest of the city.
2014: Syrian government encircles rebels
Government forces, having lifted the siege of Aleppo in October 2013, continued their offensive in 2014 (we see this in the diagram to the right, government forces are highlighted in green).
This culminated in the lifting of the siege of Aleppo Central Prison on May 22, which housed a garrison of government soldiers that had resisted rebel forces since 2012.
A ceasefire proposal was presented by a UN envoy in November. Under the proposal, the Syrian Arab Army would allow the rebels to leave Aleppo without violence and would help with their transportation. In return, the rebels would surrender their arms. President Assad reportedly agreed to consider taking this ceasefire plan, though no official confirmation was made. The FSA rejected the plan; its military commander Zaher al-Saket said they had "learned not to trust the Assad regime because they are cunning and only want to buy time."
2015: War of attrition
In preparation for a new offensive, the rebels heavily shelled government-held parts of Aleppo, leaving 43 civilians dead and 190 wounded on June 15. Two days later, rebel forces captured the western neighborhood of Rashideen from Syrian government forces.
In early July, two rebel coalitions launched an offensive against the government-held western half of the city. During five days of fighting, the rebels seized the Scientific Research Center on Aleppo's western outskirts, which was being used as a military barracks. Two rebel attacks on the Jamiyat al-Zahra area were repelled. Government forces launched an unsuccessful counterattack against the Scientific Research Center.
2016: Civilian and rebel supply lines cut by Assad regime
By 2016, it was estimated that the population of rebel-held eastern Aleppo had gone down to 300,000, while 1.5 million were living in government-held western Aleppo.
By late July, the military had managed to sever the last rebel supply line coming from the north and completely surround Aleppo. However, within days, the rebels launched a large-scale counter-attack south of Aleppo to both open a new supply line into rebel-held parts of the city and cut-off the area under government control.
By December 13, the rebel area shrunk to only 5% of the original territory of the city. A ceasefire was announced and the fighting stopped in order to enable the evacuation of civilians and rebels. Buses had been prepared for the evacuation, however, the Syrian government resumed the bombardment of east Aleppo on December 14. Thus, the deal fell apart with both sides
The Syrian conflict has effectively turned into a proxy war between the American-backed rebels and the Russian-backed Syrian government. Aleppo is the most prominent example of this. What started off as a string of peaceful protests has resulted in a full-fledged civil war, and Aleppo has been left in ruins.
Evacuations began last month for thousands of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo. For many, however, fleeing their homes means leaving one war zone for another.
Most of the civilians and some rebel fighters would be taken to rebel-controlled Idlib, one of the few remaining footholds the rebel groups still have in the country -- and most likely the regime's next target for recapture.
The violence within Aleppo and the general lack of restraint towards anyone within firing range is horrific. Hospitals in Aleppo that house the elderly, sick, and children, have been bombed by either the Assad regime, or the Free Syrian Army, among others. Neither side is showing restraint, and thousands continue to die because of this.
The conflict in Syria, and specifically, Aleppo, has reached the point where it can be called a “humanitarian crisis.” Neither the Assad regime nor the Free Syrian Army seem to care about the well-being of innocent civilians. The lack of cooperation from either side in conflict demonstrates the sheer lack of care for the Syrian people.
A 19-year-old aspiring journalist, David McDonald currently studies Public Management at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. David enjoys writing about various global issues and uses his expertise in politics, economics, and the environment to give powerful insights into any controversy.