Roughly 50 people have reportedly been killed today in the fighting between rebel and regime forces across Syria. Clashes in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo have continued for nearly a month and show no signs of relenting. Although the rebels in the area appear to be expending a good deal of resources, the regime is pursuing a more tempered approach due to the city’s economic and strategic importance as well as its need to preserve armor, equipment and loyal Alawite forces. The regime’s measured tactics along with Aleppo’s urban and heavily populated districts will ensure an even more difficult and prolonged battle.
The fighting between Syrian rebel and regime forces is currently taking place across Syria in places such as Damascus and Daraa, while the heavily anticipated battle for Aleppo continues. The bulk of fighting in Aleppo is taking place in the outer districts, more specifically in the northeastern Aleppo districts of al-Sakhour and Hanano as well as the southwestern districts near Salah al-Deen. Over the weekend, there have also been increasing reports of firefights near the Aleppo airport nine miles from the city center. However, neither the rebels nor the regime forces are fully in control of the city.
Unlike the regime’s fight to re-assert control over Damascus, which took roughly two weeks, the fight for Aleppo has persisted for a month and has not yet reached the city center. There are two main reasons for this: First, Aleppo has the largest population with 2 million people, consisting of a large Sunni merchant class whose support the regime has relied upon. Despite the regime's military capabilities and use of artillery in rebel-dominated districts, the Syrian forces cannot afford to heavily bombard and flatten the entire city with artillery or it will likely lose any existing support from the Sunni merchants. Additionally any such actions run the risk of inciting the family members of millions of Syrians to join or strengthen the battle against the al Assad regime.
This brings us to the second issue which is that although use of artillery risks losing all support bases, at the same time, the regime cannot afford to militarily to engage in more controlled and close-quarter battlefield tactics, such as street fighting, due to the city’s urban and populated streets and the many risks associated with it. Urban warfare is very difficult to prosecute and often results in high attrition rates, casualties the regime cannot sustain.
Street battles place the regime’s forces in a very vulnerable position as the rebels are already entrenched throughout the city, which provides them with excellent cover and concealment and fields of fire with limited avenues of approach. Additionally, the close confines mitigate standoff advantage that most of the regime’s forces would usually enjoy. These threats to the Syrian troops are especially threatening as the regime is currently depending heavily on Alawite troops in Aleppo, troops which are much more loyal than Sunni units and not easily replaceable.
The Syrian regime is faced with a very real conundrum of using heavy bombardments at little cost to itself and possibly inciting millions in Aleppo or engaging in street fighting, which would deplete weapons, armor and more important loyal Alawite soldiers. Thus, even if the regime can regain control over Aleppo through either tactic or a combination of the two, the regime will not have the support or loyal soldiers necessary to exert control over the many pockets of rebellion across Syria.