Syrian Civil War
Aleppo’s Last Stand

The fall of Aleppo is all but complete. On Monday, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were poised to retake the last major urban stronghold of the Syrian opposition. The Wall Street Journal:

The Syrian regime extended its grip of Aleppo to almost all of the city on Monday as a proposal to evacuate rebels and civilians awaited a definitive response from Damascus’ Russian allies.

Syrian state media said President Bashar al-Assad ’s forces had captured 98% of the eastern areas of Aleppo that have been largely rebel-held since 2012. The rebels and the opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces were in control of 90%.

Rebels were pushed Monday from several more neighborhoods after days of intense ground combat with regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes and militias comprising thousands of Shiite Muslim foreign fighters.

Opposition officials estimated that more than 100,000 civilians remained in the devastated rebel-controlled areas of the city, huddled in homes and basements or seeking shelter. Tens of thousands have recently fled the area.

Even at this late stage, the United States is seeking to arrange a ceasefire and evacuation for Aleppo’s remaining civilians and rebel fighters. But time is running out, Russia is stalling, and Assad is advancing.

Despite American pleas, the winning side has little reason to spare the remaining rebels or allow them to relocate to other rebel-held areas. And even in the event of an agreement, there are obvious reasons to doubt the assurances of the Russians or the Assad regime, given their long history of perfidy on these matters. In other words, the fall of Aleppo seems to be playing out as expected: with the U.S. chasing futile peace agreements as Assad and Russia pressing their advantage. This is a sad, tragic story, but an all-too-familiar one.

The capture of Aleppo is a major coup for Assad, but it hardly spells the end of the war. Assad’s next move may be to consolidate control over rebel-held territory along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. This will entail smaller-scale fighting on several different fronts: the Kurdish areas west of Aleppo, the periphery of Latakia Province, which is the historical stronghold of Alawite rule, and patches of Sunni rebel-held territory near the Lebanese border. There is no telling how such fighting will unfold, but the goal is clear enough: Assad and his patrons may not have the wherewithal to retake all of Syria, but they can consolidate enough control to present the world with a cleaner front line between the regime and the Islamic State in southeastern Syria.  And if that happens, Syria could be well on the way to de facto partition.

Much could happen in days to come to forestall or complicate that outcome. But with the fall of Aleppo now a fait accompli, Assad’s star is on the rise, and the opposition’s on the wane.

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