CNN's report on the worsening humanitarian crisis in Aleppo
Recent weeks have seen dramatic changes in Syria. After months of slow advance, the Free Syrian Army won a series of quick victories in Idlib and Aleppo provinces. This sudden capture of territory, fueled by ambushes and defections (and, likely, new weapons supplied via Turkey), combined with other successful battles in Hama and Homs Provinces, provided evidence that the regime's military had overextended itself and was in a state of collapse.
That situation rapidly escalated after July's bombing in Damascus, killing four senior figures of the Assad regime, coupled with a sudden attack by the Free Syrian Army. While President Assad's forces concentrated on regaining control in the capital, the Syrian military significant amounts of territory in the north and east, including much of Aleppo, Idlib, and Deir Ez Zor Provinces and posts on the Iraqi and Turkish borders.
The regime's elite units pushed the FSA out of Damascus, but then the unthinkable happened. The FSA, claiming that it was protecting protests under attack, moved into Aleppo between 19 and 21 July, seizing sections of the largest, and wealthiest, city in the country. At first, the impression was that, as in Damascus, the regime would soon reverse the insurgent takeover. Three weeks later, with large parts of Aleppo in ruins, that has still not occurred.
After several failed attempts to directly challenge the Free Syrian Army, the regime has resorted to bombing the city, dismantling buildings, and blowing holes in walls as an alternative to marching troops through the streets. The Free Syrian Army is relocating to less affected areas, and appears to be prepared to continue their fight for the city. At this stage, the Syrian military does not seem to have the ability to win the city without level;ing much of it; however, the Free Syrian Army lacks the ability to counter artillery and aircraft .
Meanwhile, we have seen a similar pattern in cities like Deir Ez Zor, with indications that it will eventually fall to the FSA. And most days brings new reports of defeats for the Assad forces in towns and cities in the north, east, and south, even as those days bring more shelling, bombing, and destruction.
The likely military outcome for the Assad regime is defeat. It cannot win in the countryside. It is still losing territory, as well as tanks and soldiers to the ambushes and defections. The captured arms and defecting soldiers are supplemented by fresh supplies and equipment to the insurgents, provided by supporters --- from individuals to states --- outside Syria.
But for all that growing strength, the FSA has yet to prove that it can defeat the Assad military in key cities. Hama remains in the regime's hands. So do Homs and Damascus. A stalemate in Aleppo could be a body blow to President Assad, but that is unlikely to push him from power.
What we have is a war for attrition. The regime cannot win, but it will persist, to the point of destroying much of the country while it tries. The Free Syrian Army will not stop fighting until Assad has fallen, but it is incapable of bringing about a decisive victory to halt the destruction.
The ideal example may not be Aleppo, but rather Daraa Province. Daraa is the birthplace of the uprising, close to Jordan, Lebanon, and Damascus. It is under heavy military occupation with regime forces so strong there that the FSA has been unable to carve out any foothold. Each day, however, brings clashes, bombings, and shellings, with civilians paying the price.
Syria is what happens when an unstoppable force --- the Free Syrian Army and the peaceful protest movement that refuses to be suppressed --- meets the almost immovable object of a regime with Russian and Iranian support. At this pace, what will be left of the country when President Assad falls? How long will it take, and how many innocent lives will be lost?
With no clear answer, "analysis" often descends into a blame game, with supporters of the regime and of the insurgency casting aspersions and responsibiity on each other. This game, however, misses the point. The FSA will keep taking the fight to the regime, and the regime will take all measures necessary to hold back the insurgencies, destroying the cities in order to save them.
There will be no negotiated end to this conflict, at least not until a distant future when one side has forced the other to its knees on the battlefields. That in turn pushes the question --- will the international community that supplied the FSA with just enough force to create this predicament, now proceed further to ensure the "unstoppable force" is unstoppable, be that through a sudden influx of arms, a no-fly zone, or direct intervention?