The ongoing downfall of ISIS really only began with the Russian intervention in Syria. Even in Iraq, the gradual success against ISIS only really took hold once the Russians showed the resolve in Syria. It has been a repudiation of the absence of an Obama/Kerry strategy. It has also shown quite clearly that it was the US/NATO/ France/UK/ EU/ Turkey obsession with getting rid of Assad which allowed ISIS to grow and then prevented any effective strategy against ISIS from being implemented.
Now Aleppo and its Al Qaeda/ISIS related rebel groups are on the verge of being driven out by Syrian troops with Russian support. In Mosul what was intended to be a liberation of the city – in time for a Clinton success at the US General election – has progressed much more slowly than expected. It has stalled from time to time and it may not even be complete before Obama leaves office. The retaking of Aleppo cannot strictly be compared with retaking Mosul, but it does reconfirm the differences between first, the resolve of Assad’s Syrian troops and the Iraqi army, and second, the difference between the US and Russian implementation of strategies.
Two Reuters reports today caught my eye:
The Syrian army’s advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the city would change the course of the six-year-old war. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the Syrian army, which has captured territory including Aleppo’s historic Old City in recent days, had halted military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory.
The last two weeks have seen rebels driven from most of their territory in what was once Syria’s largest city, the eastern section of which the insurgents have controlled since 2012. Although there are still many rural areas in rebel hands, Aleppo is their last big urban redoubt. The prospect of its fall, following months of government gains elsewhere, has brought Assad closer to victory than at any point since the early months of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and made half of Syrians homeless.
“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said, speaking in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.
Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.
The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.
The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army’s push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq’s largest northern city.
The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (just over 1 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were attacked by six suicide car bombs and “heavy enemy fire”, according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces.
Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.
The soldiers involved in the action are at the spearhead of a U.S.-backed, 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, federal police, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces battling to crush Islamic State in Mosul.
Mosul may still take some time but that it will be retaken before too long seems almost certain.