Jabha Shamiya commander blames ‘complete lack of coordination’ for Aleppo losses

AMMAN: A rebel commander is blaming a lack of unity and “not nearly enough support from the Americans” for a series of losses in northeast Aleppo in recent days as Russian airstrikes buttress a regime ground assault, alongside an opportunistic advance by the Islamic State.

Russian airstrikes, regime artillery bombardments and Islamic State infantry assaults late last week have left rebels on Aleppo’s northeast front in retreat and disarray, Col. Abu Rami al-Kurdi,a commander with al-Jabha a-Shamiya that was holding the frontline, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Al-Jabha a-Shamiya and allied rebel factions (green), caught between the regime (red) to the south, and the Islamic State (black) to the north, withdrew in the face of Russian airstrikes, regime artillery bombardments and Islamic State infantry assaults late last week.The regime, clenched like a closing fist around the city of Aleppo, covets the northeastern Aleppo countryside to protect and supply its drive northwest to besieged Nubl and Zahraa, and to simultaneously cut rebel supply lines from Turkey into Aleppo city. The Islamic State wants these once-rebel held lands too–victory here would put it in striking distance of Aleppo city, only 13km to the south. Map courtesy of Agathocle de Syracuse.

Last Thursday, Russian warplanes began bombing four rebel-held villages northeast of Aleppo. The next day, at 4:30 AM, regime artillery forces in the Sheikh Najjar Industrial Zone in northeast Aleppo city launched their own strike against the same four villages, as well as shelling Ahdath Prison and the Syria-Turkey Free Trade Zone.

These points, approximately 12km northeast of the city’s center, are all coveted by the regime, rebels and the Islamic State. Northeast Aleppo’s towns, villages and commercial facilities, including al-Ahdath Prison, the Syria-Turkey Free Trade Zone and a sprawling cement plant, make for hard-to-capture military positions, and supply half-way points to frontline units. 

The rebels found their forces suddenly trapped. Caught between a Russian-backed regime offensive, moving north on Friday, and an Islamic State infantry assault, moving south hours later, the rebels “had no choice but to abandon what seemed like an impossible defense,” said al-Jabha a-Shamiya commander Col. al-Kurdi.

Having essentially split the rebel-held salient northeast of Aleppo city in two [see map below], regime and Islamic State forces advanced to share a new, approximately 10km frontline in northeast Aleppo.

Having erased the rebel salient off the map, regime and Islamic State forces split their new spoils in two. By Monday, the regime had advanced yet further north to capture Ahdath Prison and a large cement factory from the Islamic State. These new holdings protect the regime’s march northwest to besieged Nubl and Zahra, while simultaneously supplying a campaign to cut off the Aleppo rebels from aid smuggled south from Turkey. Map source: Syria Direct.

The Jabha commander’s statement follows days of popular protests in rebel-held Aleppo city denouncing the fighters’ rapid withdrawal and demanding the resignation of rebel leaders.

“These protests were brought about by the recent rebel setbacks in Aleppo, and the attacks that the Islamic State and the regime have launched,” Siham Afrad, one of the organizers, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

The Aleppo Victory Army’s Sharia Council, exasperated with the “farcical retreat and withdrawal” of Aleppo’s “squabbling” rebel brigades, threatened in a strongly worded statement Sunday the dissolution of any factions failing to unite against what would be the regime’s “disastrous completion of the Aleppo siege.”

Jabha’s commander blamed chaos in rebel ranks along with overstretched and underfunded fighters for fleeing the battlefield.

“The myriad brigades under al-Jabha a-Shamiya’s umbrella in northeast Aleppo are bleeding men and hardware across multiple fronts–they’re caught between regime forces to the south, and IS to the north, not to mention skirmishing with the Kurds in Sheikh Maqsoud,” explained al-Kurdi.

“Add to this a complete lack of coordination between each brigade, and not nearly enough guns and cash from the Americans to compete with the much-better equipped Islamic State, and they had no choice but to withdraw from some 50km2 of the northeastern Aleppo countryside,” al-Kurdi said.

Regime forces are clenching like a closing fist around Aleppo city, with the newly captured villages and other facilities in the northeastern Aleppo countryside part of an apparent drive northwest toward the rebel-encircled Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahraa, roughly 10km away.

By Monday, the regime had advanced even further north to capture a sprawling cement plant from the Islamic State.

The regime’s march northwest would simultaneously cut off valuable rebel lines bringing guns, cash and food south from Turkey to opposition fighters and civilians inside Aleppo’s opposition-held neighborhoods.

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Ghalia Muhkalalati

Ghalia Muhkhalalati holds a degree in computer science, where she attained the third highest grade in Syria for her year. She worked as a private teacher for displaced persons when the revolution began and arrived in Jordan in 2013.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.