Syrian army in the Aleppo countryside.
“This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After 4 years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight.”
— Edward Dark, Twitter, Moon of Alabama
A last ditch effort to stop a Russian-led military offensive in northern Syria ended in failure on Wednesday when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) backed by the National Defense Forces (NDF) and heavy Russian air cover broke a 40-month siege on the villages of Nubl and al-Zahra in northwestern Aleppo province. The Obama administration had hoped that it could forestall the onslaught by cobbling together an eleventh-hour ceasefire agreement at the Geneva peace talks. But when the news that Syrian armored units had crashed through al Nusra’s defenses and forced the jihadists to retreat, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura suspended the negotiations tacitly acknowledging that the mission had failed.
“I have indicated from the first day that I won’t talk for the sake of talking,” the envoy told reporters, saying he needed immediate help from international backers led by the United States and Russia, which are supporting opposite sides of a war that has also drawn in regional powers.” (Reuters) De Mistura then announced a “temporary pause” in the stillborn negotiations which had only formally begun just hours earlier. Developments on the battlefield had convinced the Italian-Swedish diplomat that it was pointless to continue while government forces were effecting a solution through military means.
After months of grinding away at enemy positions across the country, the Russian strategy has begun to bear fruit. Loyalist ground forces have made great strides on the battlefield rolling back the war-weary insurgents on virtually all fronts. A broad swathe of the Turkish border is now under SAA control while the ubiquitous Russian bombers continue to inflict heavy losses on demoralized anti-regime militants. Wednesday’s lightening attack on the strategic towns of Nubl and Zahraa was just the icing on the cake. The bold maneuver severed critical supply-lines to Turkey while tightening the military noose around the country’s largest city leaving hundreds of terrorists stranded in a battered cauldron with no way out.
For the last two weeks, the Obama team has been following developments on the ground with growing concern. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry hurriedly assembled a diplomatic mission to convene emergency peace talks in Geneva despite the fact that the various participants had not even agreed to attend. A sense of urgency bordering on panic was palpable from the onset. The goal was never to achieve a negotiated settlement or an honorable peace, but (as Foreign Policy magazine noted) to implement “a broad ‘freeze’ over the whole province of Aleppo, which would then be replicated in other regions later.” This was the real objective, to stop the bleeding any way possible and prevent the inevitable encirclement of Aleppo.
The recapturing of Nubl and Zahraa leaves the jihadists with just one route for transporting weapons, food and fuel to their urban stronghold. When loyalist forces break the blockade at Bab al Hawa to the northeast, the loop will be closed, the perimeter will tighten, the cauldron will be split into smaller enclaves within the city, and the terrorists will either surrender or face certain annihilation. Wednesday’s triumph by the Russian-led coalition is a sign that that day may be approaching sooner than anyone had anticipated. […]