Insurgent Leader Explains Why Aleppo Fell to Assad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 31, 2016

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa was, on 1 December 2016, appointed to lead all insurgent forces, under the banner of al-Jaysh al-Halab (The Army of Aleppo), in the besieged enclave of eastern Aleppo City. The city’s defences collapsed to the coalition of forces—namely Russia and Iran—supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad on 12 December, and on 22 December the deportation of 40,000 people from the enclave to Idlib was completed. On 29 December, Abu al-Abed gave a speech explaining the reasons as he saw them for the fall of Aleppo City. Today, insurgent channels in Syria circulated an English summary, which is reproduced below with some editions in transliterations and some interesting sections highlighted in bold.

The number one reason for the fall of Aleppo was the division and disputes between the factions. The military preparation and equipment was hidden for each other. While Jabhat Fatah al-Sham [al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra] and Ahrar al-Sham were buying supplies for the battles, other factions had filled stockrooms with all types of ammunition and supplies, which they eventually left behind in the end for the regime when they left Aleppo.1 When they were finally forced to unite and when they appointed Abu al-Abed Ashidaa as the general leader it was already too late.2 The territories were falling one after the other before they appointed him as the general leader, and many factions were also infiltrated by the secret services of the regime. And because of the division they could also not confront those who were spreading injustice and corruption, many criminals were protected by factions who caused a lot of harm to the jihad and Aleppo. Therefore, Abu al-Abed Ashidaa advises the mujahideen to unite immediately so they will not experience what they have experienced in Aleppo.

The second reason for the fall of Aleppo was the ruthless genocide of the regime, targeting civilians, hospitals, schools, bakeries, public services, et cetera. They pressured the factions by killing children and women relentlessly.

The third reason was the lack of religious adherence, most factions did not care about educating their soldiers in matters of faith.3 They only cared about numbers and tried to gain followers to compete with other factions out of jealousy, but their soldiers were the first ones to flee from the battle when things got tough.

The fourth reason is the lack of preparation by the factions for battle, most of their soldiers were not trained and the lines of defence were very messy and unstable, many of their youths were killed due to stupid mistakes. Some leaders were even bragging about the number of killed in his faction, which he threw into destruction.

The fifth reason was the international conspiracy against Aleppo. Aleppo was sold in the international political market. Aleppo was destroyed in front of the whole world, including the so-called friendly nations of the revolution, who continuously refused to provide something as simple as tunnel digging machines to ease the siege on Aleppo. This treachery was not enough, as they even caused division between the mujahideen and prevented some of their allies in Aleppo from cooperating with certain other factions. Katibat Ashidaa for example refused to cooperate with Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to finish digging a tunnel to the regime-held Citadel of Aleppo, because they viewed the territory of the old city of Aleppo as property of their faction, and threatened [Ahrar and JFS] not to come close to it. He promised to finish the tunnel by himself but he did not do anything. In addition, many factions left Aleppo by the orders of their backers, especially in the northern and eastern part of Aleppo [City], as they left to fight in the rural north [with the Turkish forces]. So these territories were the first ones to fall in Aleppo, and the EUPHRATES SHIELD Operation in the rural north did nothing to ease the burden on Aleppo City. These countries advised many of the factions in Aleppo to leave with all kinds of promises, and this destroyed the soul of resistance in the factions. Many of them left their lines of defence against the regime.

The sixth reason was the delay of Jaysh al-Fatah to break the siege on Aleppo for the second time; [because of this] the regime had enough time to organize its ranks and mobilize its armies and pressure the city of Aleppo. And after the failed second attempt they did not open other new fronts to busy and distract the regime to ease the pressure on Aleppo, which made it possible for the regime to focus all its strength on Aleppo.4

The seventh reason was that the active, large factions like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham had very little influence in Aleppo [City]5 due to the numerous other factions in Aleppo who were backed by supplies and equipment. Only a small number of strong and faithful men remained standing in the end, while the illusion which was built on deceit collapsed.

So the Rawafid [bigoted term for Shi’is, refers here to the Assad regime and the Iranian-run Shi’a jihadists fighting for it] who poured into Aleppo turned the Sunni city of Aleppo in one of their capitals. It must, however, be said that the mujahideen left Aleppo only after confronting literally hundreds of regime offensives while making large sacrifices. Yes, we left Aleppo, but we will return to it with the will of Allah, no matter how much it will cost us. All those youths who fled from Sham [Syria] to the neighbouring countries must return to regain their country. Who will defend it if you did not defend it yourselves?

And finally, I want to call upon the leaders [of the insurgent factions] to merge so that the tragedies of Aleppo are not repeated again. The Syrian people and the youth must pressure and call upon the factions to unite.





[1] This claim that either JFS or Ahrar al-Sham could have made a big difference in Aleppo City if only they had weapons is distinctly dubious. JFS represented a tenth at most of the insurgents in Aleppo City—and perhaps much less. The strength of JFS’ close ally, Ahrar al-Sham, is much-overstated, too. Additionally, rather than fighting the hardest to defend the insurgent-held enclave, JFS spent the last days of the siege attacking the rebellion. On 4 December, amid rumours—denied by rebels—that armed opposition factions had met with the Russians in Turkey to perhaps negotiate a withdrawal that would at least spare them a massacre in the face of what was by-then a clearly impending defeat, JFS joined with Kataib Abu Amara, a former unit of Ahrar, to attack Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Sham in the Kallasa area, seizing munitions and arresting numerous rebel fighters who were rather urgently needed at the front. It was symbolically apt that for the rebellion, at the end in Aleppo City, it was collapsed from without by the pro-Assad coalition and from “within” by al-Qaeda.

[2] There is very little information about Abu al-Abed available. Abu al-Abed seems to be an Aleppine, from the Sukari district of the city by some accounts. It also seems quite clear that Abu al-Abed was associated with the Islamist forces and was at least not hostile to JFS, the de facto al-Qaeda branch in Syria, which had only a marginal presence in eastern Aleppo City. Bilal Abdul Kareem, the American media activist who is also close to the Islamist insurgents and who was in the besieged enclave of Aleppo City as it fell, interviewed Abu al-Abed on 12 December. Nothing biographical was mentioned in the interview; for understandable reasons the focus was on the military situation.

[3] Regardless of one’s view on the rightness or otherwise of a lack of focus on educating fighters in Islam(ism), the fact that “most” groups were not doing that takes an axe to the root of the contention by some commentators that the insurgency in Aleppo City was dominated by jihadist terrorists.

[4] This was indeed a major factor, and the U.S. and allied decision to keep the Southern Front quiet was an additional factor.

[5] See note 3.

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