With the militants defeated in Aleppo city, many have raised the questions: ‘What will happen now?’. A common answer is ‘Idlib’. Although this sounds logical, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will have to put a lot of resources in an operation that drives into the rebel heartland.
Furthermore, the Turkish backed Euphrates Shield forces and the Islamic State are still threatening Aleppo city from the east, while the Jaish Al-Fateh agglomeration threatens the city from the west and the south.
This breakdown will focus on several possible scenarios that will further shape the military balance in the Aleppo Governorate. Note that most frontline positions are based on recent satellite footage.
For the past days, West Aleppo has been under attack by Jaish al Fateh at the Zahraa and Mallah front. Moreover, the militants are well in range to lob their hellcannon projectiles into the densely populated areas of western Aleppo.
In order to remove this threat, the SAA should secure the Anadan plains, which cities have been bastions for the militants since the start of the war (figure 2).
A full-frontal assault from the (south)east is doable, but will probably result in a large number of casualties. It is therefore more beneficial to capture the western flank (Simeon mountains) and besiege the area first.
The initial phase will consist of a big push towards Mansoura and Kafr Da’el, capturing the Military Research Center and the Al-Jazira district in the process. Meanwhile, the SAA and its allies can conduct operations to push into Al-Layramoun, Mallah and Bayanoun, if only to draw fighters away from the main operation and cause confusion amongst its ranks (figure 3).
Second, the SAA will push towards Kafr Bissin from the north and south, while also putting pressure on the western flank of Kafr Hamra and moving into the industrial area of Bayanoun and Hayyan. This will effectively besiege the Anadan plains (figure 4).
Most likely a similar battle like East Aleppo will unfold, where simultaneous attacks are being carried out on various axes to maximize the pressure on the besieged militants. This will lead either to the complete annihilation of the militants, or to a similar deal as we have seen in East Aleppo.
Another possible operation in western Aleppo countryside could be securing the remaining Rashidin suburbs (4 & 5) and Khan al-Assal (figure 5). The latter is considered the western gate to Aleppo city.
Capturing this area will give the ability to launch attacks towards the north (Mansoura) and subsequently to besieging the Anadan plains. The area is also an excellent to launch attacks towards the south, along the M5 highway axis. Furthermore, the area can also act as a stepping stone for an operation along the highway 60 toward the strategic Bab al-Hawa bordercrossing (figure 6). Unfortunatly, the northern flank with Mansoura occupies the high ground. Also, the militants are well entrenched in this area, making the only possible way of attack, full-frontal, very difficult. It is therefore more likely to succeed once Mansoura is control prior to such an operation.
When Jaish al Fateh retook the Khan Tuman area in May/June 2016, they used it later that year to launch their successful attacks against pro-government positions west of the Ramouseh district. From here, they were able to break the siege of East Aleppo, if only for a short while. Although the East Aleppo pocket is non-existent anymore, this area can still pose a great threat for the Syrians inside Aleppo city. Moreover, the Khan Tuman area is situated on a high that overlooks the northern part of the Qinassrin plains and is therefore very strategic (figure 7).
Operations will most likely start with the SAA and their allies targeting Qarasi and Marata and its military terrain. Capturing Qarassi will ensure that the road between Khan Tuman and Humayra is blocked, while the Marata area overlooks Khan Tuman and Al-Khalidiyah. Furthermore, by controlling both positions, the pro-government forces will be able to maneuver from multiple axes towards Khan Tuman (figure 8 & 9).
Capturing Khan Tuman will provide a nice buffer for the Ramouseh front, but will also be a springboard for subsequent operations in the Qinassrin plains (Al-Eis). It also will threaten militant positions at the western side of the M5 highway and to the north at the Rashidin and Khan al-Assal suburbs (figure 10). Nevertheless, the militants have shown they are capable to retake the area if they apply enough pressure and the region should therefore be heavily fortified.
Operations west of Aleppo focus on removing militants’ staging areas in the region: the Anadan plains, the Khan al-Assal suburb and Khan Tuman. The militants are fully aware of this and will try to hold it with everything they can in order to hold their grip on the western flank of Aleppo city.
With the fall of the East Aleppo pocket, there is nore more purpose for the insurgents to throw everything they have at the well fortified positions on Aleppo city’s western flank. They can try to slowly chip away territory, but ultimately they are in defensive positions and are at the mercy of the SAA and its allies.
Article was written by G. Joene, a Dutch analyst. You can read more of his analysis on his Twitter account @Gjoene