| Institute for the Study of War |
Another option could be to move directly on Raqqa from the north and south, coordinating between regime and YPG forces. The Wilson Center's Henri Barkey made the case for the US and its allies targeting Raqqa ahead of the campaign against Mosul.
But it now seems clear that the Asad government and its allies, which now include Special Forces units of the Regular Iranian Army (Artesh) in addition to the long-present IRGC, have decided on a different priority: completing the encirclement of Aleppo and recapturing the city. An assessment here.
Asad's Prime Minister, Wa'el al-Halaqi, has explicitly said that the regime and the Russian Air Force are now determined to complete he encirclement of Aleppo. Many of the elite Syrian and Iranian forces that spearheaded the recapture of Palmyra have now been moved to southern Aleppo province, and the Syrian Army's elite Tiger Forces and its commander, Maj. Gen. Suheil al-Hasan, have reportedly been assigned the task of closing the ring around Aleppo.
Retaking Syria's most populous city (as it was before the civil war) would be a great symbolic victory for the Asad regime, but the intermingling of armed groups in the Aleppo fight makes a campaign there much more dangerous, with the potential of undermining the remaining elements of the cessation of hostilities, in place since February, with the new round of Geneva talks due this week. In Palmyra the only enemy was ISIS, which is not covered by the truce, but in Aleppo Jabhat al-Nusra, also not covered, is closely intertwined with Free Syrian Army forces, which are. So the Aleppo campaign could risk the fragile truce.
But it is worth noting that the capture of Aleppo is unlikely to be as simple as the capture of Palmyra. The Russian Air Force already faces criticism for striking civilian targets, and if Aleppo is completely cut off (there is currently only one road open), mass starvation could be a possibility. So there are clear dangers: of failure, of increased humanitarian suffering, of undermining the peace talks. There is a real possibility that, instead of following up its success at Palmyra with rapid further progress against ISIS, the rebimeand its patrons are choosing a potentially costly gamble they might well lose.