Nearly 150 civilians have been killed by a new round of government bombardment in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The air strikes mark four years and four months of fighting in Aleppo, which has played host to bloody urban warfare between government forces and a host of rebel factions since 2012.
The bombing has apparently destroyed every hospital in rebel-held sections of the city, leaving civilians in those sectors facing a long winter without medical supplies or adequate food.
The Syrian civil war began in 2011, when President Bashar Al-Assad used the military to crack down on anti-government protests. These protests snowballed into a full-scale insurgency with international support and all the problems that come with trying to unite several disparate factions under one banner. Syria’s largest city Aleppo was, at one point, mostly pro-government. When rebels penetrated its defences, the government resorted to the indiscriminate bombing campaigns that have so characterized this particular Middle-Eastern conflict.
But this month’s air strikes represent a massive escalation in President Assad’s efforts to rid the city of rebels. His regime has recently enjoyed the support of a Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, in shelling the rebel-held sections of the Idlib province.
Russian air strikes have accounted for 3600 civilian deaths since they joined the conflict a year ago. The American-led Coalition has been responsible for just under 900.
It is unclear at this time how the war in Syria will proceed under the direction of President-Elect Trump when he takes office. President Assad has indicated that he believes he can work with Trump on halting the violence in Syria, as has President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Trump has stated that he wants to destroy Islamic State fighters in Syria, and keep Assad’s government intact, but has not detailed how he will accomplish that. Donald Trump Jr. has also been holding talks with various diplomats, politicians, and businessmen in Paris in an effort to resolve the conflict.
Trump could act in several ways – by withdrawing support from the rebels, joining in on the Russian air strikes, or keeping on in the same direction. Withdrawing support from the rebels could have far-reaching consequences, in that current American support comes with the proviso that rebel factions won’t be supplied with more advanced weapons technology – if Trump stops aid, other countries may take this as a signal that they can now provide their chosen fighters with weapons like anti-air missiles. These kinds of weapons systems proved instrumental in repelling Russian forces from Afghanistan in the 1980’s, but also created an imbalanced power dyanamic that led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
If Trump joins in on the air strikes, it’s likely to galvanise hard-line Islamic jihadists into further action and recruiting – two of the world’s superpowers killing a lot of civilians would likely make the option of joining a terrorist group very attractive for many Syrians, as has been the case in previous Middle-Eastern conflicts.
For its part, Australia has continued its own anti-ISIS bombing campaign, even after a friendly fire incident that killed dozens of Syrian Army soldiers.