C.J. Chivers reports: The sniper walked through the rubble near this city’s front lines. He was searching for another spot from where he might catch a Syrian soldier in his rifle scope’s cross hairs.
Speaking in French-accented English, he said he was not Syrian, but a roaming jihadist who had journeyed here to help the Sunni uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s secular, Alawite rule.
“I am a Muslim,” he said. “When you see on TV many of your brothers and sisters being killed you have to go help them. This is an obligation in Islam.”
The presence of this foreign antigovernment fighter, who claimed to be from Paris and gave his name as Abu Abdullah, pointed to recurring questions of the battle for Syria’s largest city: How much longer will the fighting last, and what will its effects be?
Now in its sixth month, the battle for Aleppo has become the contest for Syria in a microcosm, exposing the weakness of both sides, while highlighting anew the perils and costs of the country’s bitter civil war.
It has underlined the rebels’ difficulties in organizing a coherent campaign; their paucity of infantry weapons heavier than machine guns; and some of their fighters’ participation in the same human rights abuses for which they condemn the government, including the summary killing of prisoners.
It has also left rebels vulnerable to allegations of corruption, including the theft of much needed food and other aid.
Simultaneously, the fighting has exposed the government’s seemingly fatal miscalculations. For all of its statements to the contrary, and no matter its effort to mass soldiers and firepower here, Mr. Assad’s government has mustered neither the popular support nor the military might to stop the rebels’ slow momentum, much less to defeat them. [Continue reading…]