YPG Advances in N Aleppo, February 17
The YPG has seized some significant ground from rebel groups in northern Aleppo over the last few days. This is massively significant for several reasons. Probably most importantly for the course of the war, it puts a nail in the coffin for Sunni rebel groups in the north of the province. All accounts are that resistance has largely collapsed in the face of YPG advances. Assad grabbed up some territory around Irhas, while the YPG took Tal Rifaat. There are reports that rebel groups in Marea, which is now largely cut off from the rebel hinderland, and surrounded on three sides by ISIS, are considering handing over the city peacefully, though this has met resistance among other factions.
The YPG is certainly a winner here. They’ve managed to move closer to connecting their cantons, probably the most important strategic goal for the PYD, and now have a direct connection to ISIS held territory in both the east and west. It will be much harder for any international actor, Turkey included to justify bombing or intervention against the YPG when it’s solely a fight against ISIS (or at least can be presented as such). Which is probably the reason the group’s advance made a beeline to the south-east, this puts as much distance as possible between the YPG and the Turkish border and gives them the best chance to get a frontline with ISIS in the west. Probably the only time anyone has ever or will ever want to share a border with ISIS….
The biggest winner, however, is Assad. The YPG has pretty clearly lined up with the regime here, the prevalence of Russian airstrikes in direct support of YPG combat operations pretty much proves that. Whether that alignment is permanent or merely one of convenience to secure territory in this specific instance is an open question. Strategically, Assad has secured his northern front in Aleppo, whatever happens with the rebel rump territory there he can practically ignore, allowing more forces to be deployed to Aleppo’s east (against ISIS, around Kweires air base) and west (against Sunni rebels and their final supply lines).
Also, sidenote, but in the map above (if you click the link), Assad is making another push towards Tabqah airbase in Raqqa. As often happens when I’m making maps, I get a little carried away and don’t know when to stop, regardless of the relevance. Supposedly troops are within 25km of the base.