On the 1st of February, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched a largescale offensive from Aleppo city towards the government-held enclave of Nubl and al-Zahraa. In less than 48 hours, government troops broke a 3½-year long siege imposed by Islamist rebels on this predominately Shia area while also capturing a handful of villages during the process. Since then, government soldiers have expanded further in the region while remarkably also capturing the strategic towns of Mayer and Kafr Naya with relative ease. Earlier today, the SAA and allied pro-government fighters also captured the village of Tannurah that lies upon a hilltop that overlooks the rebel strongholds of Anadan and Hayyan on the outskirts of Aleppo city.
While the majority of this success can be contributed to the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division and the National Defense Forces (NDF) which have both seen their soldiers deployed to this area, much credit must also be given to the Russian Airforce as Russian pilots have carried out several hundred airstrikes in this area during the past two weeks. Also, highly motivated Shi’ite fighters of Hezbollah (Lebanese paramilitary), Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi paramilitary), and Kata’eb Hezbollah (Iraqi paramilitary) have volunteered to join government forces in this region as they wished to ‘free’ 40.000 previously besieged civilians at Nubl and al-Zahraa. Nevertheless, the vast majority of pro-government troops on the northern Aleppo front are Syrian; however, Shiite fighters have suffered heavy casualties as more than 50 of them have died in northern Aleppo during the past ten days alone.
Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an offensive of their own against Islamist rebels in northern Aleppo and quickly capitalized on Russian airstrikes by capturing 11 villages along the Azaz-Aleppo highway. For now, Kurdish commanders have set their eyes upon Azaz city which is arguably the most important rebel-held city in the region. Due to advances of the SAA and Kurds, insurgents in northern Aleppo have been split from their comrades of the influential Islamist Jaish al-Fateh coalition in Idlib further south.
Sadly from the perspective of the Syrian Opposition, future regional prospects seem dire as rebel fighters are forced to retreat from village after village in northern Syria. However, Islamist insurgents still control a vital territorial lifeline along the triangle that makes up the cities of Azaz, Mare and Tall Rifaat. Meanwhile, Kurdish commanders have stated that they intend to capture the entire Turkish-Syrian border than runs across northern Aleppo. While the intentions of the Syrian Arab Army remain uncertain for now, government troops are simply gradually expanding a buffer zone around Nubl and Al-Zahraa. Nevertheless, if the SAA continues to advance as the current rate of expansion, they are likely to close the final supply line to the militant-held suburbs of Aleppo city in the near future.