President Bashar al-Assad's forces have withdrawn from towns and cities across the country to crush the Syrian opposition in Aleppo in a battle military analysts say could be a focal point in the 16-month conflict. As tank columns approach the city, human rights groups are warning that a humanitarian crisis could ensue as the military looks to mount an aerial campaign against rebel fighers in the city. Here's this mornings best reporting on the battle for Syria's largest city.
A desperate move NBC News' Richard Engel reports that the reinforcement of Syrian troops in Aleppo highlights the weak position the Syrian government finds itself in today. "Syrian troops are forced to make trade-offs. They don't have enough loyal troops to make the offensive against Aleppo and hold these rural areas," he reports. Opposition groups have witnessed tanks and armored vehicles leaving Idlib province near Turkey and heading toward Aleppo, essentially ceding the territory. "When government forces pull out of a place they lose control and immediately rebel flags go up and rebels hold celebrations," Engel reports. "Those celebrations have been attacked so now the rebels are deciding not to hold celebrations because they're noisy, they have lights and they're easy to target."
Locals are terrified The New York Times' Neil MacFarquhar interviews a range of Aleppo residents who fear the coming battle in their city. “People know there is going to be chaos, fighting, shelling, so people are frightened,” one activist said via Skype. “They have stocked up on canned goods and are not venturing out.” MacFarquhar notes that no public transportation exists and hospitals are badly in need of blood donations. “We fear the government’s retaliation,” said another Aleppo resident.
Rebels set up positions The BBC's Ian Pannell reports that while Syrian security forces prepare a deadly offensive, rebels too are gearing up for battle. "Syrian rebels have stepped up their stockpiling of ammunition and medical supplies in preparation for a major battle in Aleppo ... The rebels, who are in control large parts of Syria's second city, have set up checkpoints and sniper positions." He notes that rebels are replenishing their fighters with Kalashnikov rifles, ammunition and medical supplies but many activists fear they will lose in a stand off. "They lack the strategic support and weaponry," Talal al-Mayhani, an activist with ties to the rebel movement in Aleppo said.
Air-Ground Campaign Expected Al Jazeera reports that fighters believe air bombardments will be followed by a ground campaign to reclaim the city, while Reuters says "Assad's forces have noticeably toughened their response to the armed revolt, with fixed-wing combat aircraft seen in action over Aleppo." In addition, the AP reports that "attack helicopters and fighter jets" have been strafing opposition targets and artillery bombardments in Aleppo already. The video below shows some of the fight in Aleppo: