Aron Lund writes: Starting on November 27, the defenses of Aleppo’s rebel-held area suddenly gave way, allowing the government to try cutting the enclave into two. Fearing encirclement, opposition forces in the northern part of the enclave fled south, while civilians scattered in every direction—some deeper into rebel areas, some toward government-held western Aleppo. The resulting chaos enabled new regime gains. Since then, government forces and their allies have also moved into the southern Sheikh Said district, and as aircraft pummel the city, they are now putting pressure on rebel forces from nearly every direction.
The reasons for this sudden collapse remain obscure. Perhaps there were, as some have speculated, backroom deals and betrayals, or perhaps the rebels were in disarray after infighting earlier in November. In the end the truth may be straightforward: With rebel resources having been depleted by a six-month siege, the insurgents could not hold out against far superior forces.
Still, fighting in a place such as Aleppo is arduous, and it is possible that the government offensive will stall. The Russian government is reportedly still talking to both the United States and to the Syrian rebels about a truce, as opposed to a full army victory, though it seems unlikely that Assad is on board with the idea. The situation could drag on for another round or two—whether counted in days, weeks, or months—with the pro-Assad forces reportedly seeking full control over the city by January. Whatever the timeframe, the final outcome now seems inevitable: Assad will retake eastern Aleppo.
Should this happen it would represent a dramatic defeat, with powerful political repercussions for the Syrian opposition. Though many have sworn to continue fighting, some are likely to conclude that without Aleppo and with Donald Trump in the White House, there is no longer any hope of achieving a victory over Assad. [Continue reading…]