The Slatest

The Battle for Aleppo Has Entered Its Bloody End Stage

Syrian civilians leave toward safer rebel-held areas in Aleppo, on Tuesday.

Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

The situation in Aleppo, Syria, right now is being described by residents and humanitarian groups as “doomsday” and “a complete meltdown of humanity” as Russian-backed regime forces close in on the last rebel-held areas of what was once Syria’s largest city. The U.N. human rights office says it received reports of regime troops executing at least 82 civilians on Monday, including 13 children. Unverified reports suggest the numbers may be much higher, as thousands of civilians are now trapped in an area smaller than one square mile. There are also grim reports that many are opting for suicide rather than capture.

The Syrian army says it is in control of 98 percent of the city, and, according to one general, in the “last moments before declaring victory,” after an assault that began in late September with significant assistance from Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed militias. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that cease-fire talks with the U.S. were at a “dead end” and that “we are tired of hearing this whining from our American colleagues in the current administration that we need to immediately halt military action.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 1,134 people have been killed in Aleppo since Nov. 15, including nearly 600 civilians. More than 100,000 have been displaced.

The fall of Aleppo will be a turning point in the civil war that has been raging since 2011 but won’t end it. For one thing, much of Eastern Syria is still out of the regime’s control and will be for the foreseeable future. There’s the territory controlled by ISIS, which is shrinking quickly, though the group did surprisingly retake the ancient city of Palmyra from the regime this week. A significant portion of Northeast Syria is also controlled by Kurdish forces, who’ve set up a semi-autonomous region known as Rojava. Turkish-backed rebels control territory as well.

President Bashar al-Assad has written these areas off for now: He views ISIS as America’s problem and the Kurdish government as “temporary.” With the fall of Aleppo, he and his allies have now all but eliminated the rebels in western Syria’s chances of toppling his regime—something that appeared quite likely a few years ago. In particular, Assad has likely now broken the back of the Western-supported nationalist rebel groups. The next major fight will probably be in the northwest city of Idlib, which is dominated by the formerly (and likely still somewhat) al-Qaida-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

As rebel fighters flee from Aleppo to Idlib and other areas, jihadists groups will become even more dominant within the rebellion than they are currently. Even without the Donald Trump factor, this will make foreign governments even more likely to accept as a foregone conclusion the bloody victory of a leader who was willing to destroy his own country rather than give up power.