The Aleppo offensive is an operation that started on 16 October when the Syrian Army launched a large-scale strategic offensive south of Aleppo. The main objective of the operation is to secure the Azzan Mountains, while also creating a larger buffer-zone around the Syrian Government’s only highway leading to the provincial capital. The objective was also reportedly to set conditions for an upcoming offensive to isolate rebel forces in Aleppo City and to relieve the long-standing siege of a pro-government enclave in Aleppo Province.
Gen. Qasem Soleimani was reported to have personally led the drive deep into the southern Aleppo countryside where many town and villages have been taken by Government forces. Gen. Soleimani has been in command of the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division, Hezbollah, Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi), Kataebat Hezbollah (Iraqi), Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi), and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers). The Syrian government’s progress deep into the southern Aleppo countryside has been attributed in large part to the Iranian leadership during the offensive.
The origins of the planning of the offensive in Aleppo could be traced back to Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow in July 2015. Gen. Soleimani was reportedly sent to Syria by the supreme leader of Iran himself, Ali Khamenei, in order to discuss military matters with his Russian couterparts and coordinate a joint escalation of forces in Syria. One month before the offensive south of Aleppo, the military launched another operation east of the city in an attempt to break the two-year siege of the Kuweyres military air base.
At 10 A.M. (Damascus Time) on the morning of 16 October, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) – in coordination with Hezbollah, the National Defense Forces (NDF), and Al-Ba’ath Battalions – launched their large-scale southern Aleppo offensive after almost one year of inactivity along this rural area in the Azzan Mountains. According to field reports from the provincial capital, the Syrian Armed Forces and Hezbollah captured four sites from the Islamist rebels of Jabhat Al-Shamiyah (Levantine Front), Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), killing a number of combatants in the process of their advance in the Aleppo Governorate’s southern countryside.
Christopher Kozak of the Institute for the Study of War speculated that the assault was nothing more than a diversionary tactic intended to move rebel forces away from reopening the access to Nubl and cut the Aleppo–Turkey highway, their primary objective in his opinion. Hezbollah’s main incentive in participating in the offensive is believed to be similar to their agenda elsewhere, securing Shi’ite villages. Their ultimate objective is believed to be reaching the villages of Kafriya and Al-Fu’ah, thus lifting the siege imposed by Al-Nusra Front. With reportedly hundreds of square kilometers brought under government control within the span of the first month of the offensive, Al-Masdar concluded that the overall effectiveness of both the senior Iranian revolutionary guards on the ground as well as the close Russian air-support have been noted as part of the main array of factors leading to a revitalized advance by government forces.