Syria Feature: British Aid Worker Breaks the Aleppo “Siege”


PHOTO: Men unload aid from a convoy after a five-day journey into Aleppo city

A convoy led by a British aid worker has reached Syria’s largest city Aleppo, using a narrow corridor to get past pro-Assad forces.

Tauqir “Tox” Sharif spent five days attempting to reach the city, driving an old ambulance from the UK in a three-vehicle convoy with food and medicine.

Britain’s ITV News features a series of pictures and videos from Sharif’s journey, which he narrates as he drives the ambulance camouflaged in mud:

It’s really important to understand that it is not safe bringing aid into Aleppo. Look at this road, it is completely smashed. Everywhere, look at the cars, look at the shrapnel. There are planes in the sky right now. We’re being hit. Look at the smoke.

Sharif abandoned the ambulance after a nearby explosion, allegedly from a cluster bomb, but reached his destination in the bed of a pick-up truck: “Look at this place man, look at this place. You can see this is what we have to do to get aid into those people that are being choked.”

After delivering around three tons of aid, Sharif spent Friday night in a local hospital. But the next morning, the hospital was hit by airstrikes, knocking out three generators:

We’re being targeted right now, the whole world needs to know, that hospitals are being hit. Civilians are being killed, you can hear children screaming and crying.

We’ve been here less than 24 hours and the hospital’s been hit. We’re covered in dust. The hospital now has no power. One person has been killed and a small child injured.

Pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes, imposed the siege on opposition areas of Aleppo city last month when they cut the last road to the north. However, a rebel offensive from late July has reopened a 2-km (1.25-mile) corridor from the southwest, albeit one that is not secure from attack.


    • It was also interesting the replay that one guy left in the bottom of the page:

      The little anecdote about the ‘Sunni’ PMU leader not praying and if he did he would be with IS is a nice one.
      2.The next paragraph claims “a broader Sunni sense of identity that does not exist outside the confines of Saudi Arabia and territories held by jihadist groups”. This is clearly false, if there was no Sunni identity there would never be any territories held by jihadi groups. The Sunni identity had to exist in Iraq for IS to exist in the first place. The paragraph goes on to claim the Shia PMU are not sectarian and don’t co mitt abuses which the article itself clearly shows it’s wrong

      3. The fact that Sunnis are majority in Assad’s government, upper clsses and Assad controlled areas is merely a function of Sunnis being the majority in Syria.

      4. The next paragraph is essentially boilerplate around the idea that Sunni disenfranchisement is a ‘myth’, which it self-evidently is not.

      5. The next paragraph states:

      “The alternative ideology to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whether in the Middle East, in Europe’s slums, or the former Soviet Union, is not to promote a Sunni identity — what the Bush administration pursued with its mantra of “moderate Sunni allies.” Instead, a counter-ideology should promote citizenship and secular states. ”

      This is true and important. But the governments (of Iran, Iraq and Syria) that the author would have us believe are the solution are not interested in ‘citizenship or secular states’. Rather they are using their own Shia sectarianism as their motivator.

      6. The next paragraph argues quite effectively against the argument that the West and the Gulf have given little assistance by illustrating the scope of it and the success that assistance has resulted in. But it fails to defeat the ‘TOO little’ bit, because it is evidently too little since it has failed to topple Assad.

      7. This is probably the most insightful and important bit of the piece, in which the author successfully demonstrates the propensity and attraction to Salafism that already existed in the Syrian Sunni society.

      8. The author rightly points out that the West underestimated Iran and Russia’s commitment and the extent to which the rebellion was fostered by external Gulf states.

      9. The rest of the paragraphs making up this Syria section are a long attempt to try and portray the Assad regime as representing Sunnis and smear the opposition as jihadi criminals. All this is old hat and not particularly effective.

      10. The entirety of the Iraq section is crappy apologia for the PMU’s, which despite the authors attempts to exonerate them, are really nothing more than sectarian death squads in hoc to Iran. None of the authors editorializing can obscure the actual facts he does, to his credit, give concerning the reality of the Shia PMU crimes against Sunnis.

      11. The author finishes with, ” None of this is to excuse the abuses of the Syrian state and the Iraqi state.”

      Unfortunately, this is what the majority of the piece was about and the entirety of its main thrust.

      The author goes on to describe the reality of the governments and militias he defends.

      In Syria in particular, the government has unleashed desperate levels of brutality, using collective punishment, indiscriminate attacks on insurgent held areas, and harsh siege tactics to prevent insurgents from penetrating state-held areas and to force them to accept ceasefires. This has certainly led to radicalization as violence always does.

      • #3 explains Syria best.More Sunnis fill the upper classes,work for and live and serve under Assad because,wait for it…..there are more Sunnis in Syria.Kind of makes sense.While 100% of rebel losses are Sunni,one can only guess SAA Sunni numbers lost.Maybe 30%-50% Sunni SAA losses?

  1. Yeah, the piece also misconstrues the nature of the regime. It is true that there are a lot of Sunnis in the regime, but I wouldn’t say at “all levels”. The real centres of power had Sunnis: I think most have now defected. I wouldn’t say the SAA has been that resilient because of its rank and file Sunni make-up- it has nearly collapsed twice now (rescued by Shia militias and Alawite irregulars) and most of it cannot be well-armed and used in actual combat against Sunni rebels for fear it might defect.

    It is fair to say that the wealthier, urban Sunni elements in the regime have not all defected because they don’t trust the insurgency led by their poor, rural coreligionists. It is an overstatement, however, to say that they are just as enthusiastic about preserving Assad’s rule as their Alawite colleagues. As the article says, “not all Sunnis in Damascus love Assad, of course, (although more do than you would expect), but when I speak with them, it is clear they oppose the opposition and prioritize stability.” Assad is only valuable to them insofar as he can guarantee stability. Obviously, though, he cannot.

    • The SAA has stood up ok.If you consider that they were a huge,but crap,army from the very beginning,it does not look so bad.All Arab armies are garbage.Arabs do rebellion and insurgency well.Real well.But everything gets broken.

      • I don’t think the SAA itself is exceptional in any way compared to other Arab armies. As you say, they’re crap, but they’re just as crap as any other. The regime itself and its continued survival can be considered impressive, but both circumstance and luck played a major role in that.

        • @Magpie,@Tundra: I can’t agree with your assessment. It was billed as 300-400K man army, well-equipped army and it was initially taking on an ill-equipped insurgency that routinely had to stop offensive operations for want of ammunition. Two years of concerted military operations later, it managed to turn a small rebellion into an all-out civil war. Five years on, it is now down to maybe 100K. And in spite of having air supremacy, an overwhelming advantage in heavy weapons and receiving more inflows of foreign weapons and men than its opposition, it had to be rescued twice in that time by foreign intervention.

          I mean, I know Arab Armies are bad, but that’s disastrous.

          • I don’t know, man. Iraq lost a city of ~2 million to less than 1000 enemy combatants, leaving sectarian paramilitary forces as the final bulwark against an insurgency led by pariahs that was on the brink 3 years before that. That’s pretty bad. The Yemeni Army is hardly better. It didn’t suffer defections; it split into two after the Houthis overran the capital.
            We’d really need more protracted civil wars to accurately assess how competent the average Arab army is in a scenario of a civil war.

        • I think there’s a strong argument to be made that apart from a handful of people, chiefly the Assads themselves, the regime has not in fact endured at all. It is certainly true to say that without the massive Iranian intervention, the Assad regime would have been militarily defeated.

          The SAA effectively no longer exists, and where it does, is second in command to Hezbollah and Iranian units, and the Syrian economy, such as it is, only manages to totter along precariously as it does thanks to huge Iranian loans and aid.

  2. “Russian jets based in Iran on Tuesday struck targets inside Syria, the Russian defence ministry said, after Moscow deployed aircraft to an Iranian air force base to widen its campaign in Syria.
    It is thought to be the first time Russia has struck targets inside Syria from Iran since it launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

    The move came amid reports in Russian media that Moscow has asked Iran and Iraq for permission to fire cruise missiles at Syrian targets across their territory from the Caspian Sea.
    Russia’s state-backed Rossiya 24 channel said the deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent and increase bombing payloads.
    “It’s not just Russian planes touching down in Iran. To establish an operational base, they’d have to move hundreds of servicemen as well. Thousands of tonnes of munitions, fuel, [and] other equipment to operate heavy bombers from an Iranian base. So this is actually Russia establishing a rather sizeable military presence inside Iran,” Pavel Felgenhauer told Al Jazeera from Moscow.”

  3. So if a large proportion of people in regime areas are sunni, keep an eye on Aleppo residents in the thus far regime controlled areas. If the rebels take the whole city and the residents stay, then the opposition won’t have much of an issue with the rest of Syria’s population who are still under Assad, bar the alawites in Latakia.
    Although, on the subject, realize this: that it’s true what’s been said: if the rebels do take the whole of Aleppo, then it’s as good as game over; the opposition will effectively have their own state with Aleppo as it’s capital.
    Which is why the Russians are gearing up to carpet bomb the city, and why the US isn’t stopping them and possibly joining them in bombing Aleppo: they would both rather see everyone in Aleppo, rebel or not, die than see the rebels establishing a capital.
    I think it’s worse than that actually, if the Russians are doing it then they’re doing it because they were told to by the US, and in return the US has been pretty silent on increased Russian moves in Crimea and Ukraine, but that’s another subject.
    Because if the rebels establish a state which includes Aleppo, any chance of the US sponsored political solution evaporates as there’s no reason for the rebels to sit at the table with Assad. The rebels will no doubt be preparing for the coming onslaught, it’ll pass and they’ll still be standing.

  4. [And beyond]
    US officials: Up to 100,000 Iran-backed fighters now in Iraq

    As many as 100,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia are now fighting on the ground in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials — raising concerns that should the Islamic State be defeated, it may only be replaced by another anti-American force that fuels further sectarian violence in the region.
    The ranks have swelled inside a network of Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Since the rise of Sunni-dominated ISIS fighters inside Iraq more than two years ago, the Shiite forces have grown to 100,000 fighters, Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, confirmed in an email to Fox News. The fighters are mostly Iraqis.
    Garver said not all the Shia militias in Iraq are backed by Iran, adding: “The [Iranian-backed] Shia militia are usually identified at around 80,000.”

  5. [And beyond]

    Powerful jihadist faction reconciles with the Taliban

    “A powerful Taliban faction that broke away from the main group has reconciled and swore allegiance to the Taliban’s new emir, Mullah Haibatullah. The reunion of the faction, known as the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz or Mullah Dadullah Front, is the latest success in the Taliban’s effort to bring wayward groups and commanders back into the fold after divisions over the death of its founder and first emir, Mullah Omar.”

    “The Mullah Dadullah Front (also known as the Mullah Dadullah Mahaz and Mullah Dadullah Lang Allegiance) is named after Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a popular but brutal and effective commander who was killed by British special forces in Helmand province in May 2007. Dadullah was responsible for embracing al Qaeda’s ideology of waging global jihad, and incorporated al Qaeda tactics, including the use of suicide bombers, on the battlefield.”

    “Ironically, the US military’s killing of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the Taliban’s last emir, may have paved the way for rebellious Taliban commanders to rejoin the group. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was resented for the way he assumed the leadership of the Taliban in the wake of Mullah Omar’s death as well as his maneuverings while leading the Taliban before Omar’s death was announced. However, the Taliban have deftly leveraged influential leaders, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani (he was named one of Haibatullah’s two deputy emirs), Zakir, Manan, Yacoub, and others to woo disaffected leaders.”

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