Though Russian airstrikes killed a significant number of ISIS fighters today and destroyed an ISIS weapons depot, the group is continuing to see gains in the Aleppo Province, seizing five more villages just north of the city of Aleppo, and reportedly putting their forces “a few hundred meters” from the city’s northern edge.
Aleppo was once seen as the key to the entire Syrian Civil War, with rebel factions and the military both presenting capture of the city as practically a victory in the overall war. This proved prescient, but not in the way anyone hoped, as neither side won the battle for Aleppo, and the city has remained contested for years.
ISIS has never been a major force in contesting Aleppo itself, but has had territory north of the city, along the Turkish border. The practical value of the city at this point is debatable, however, as years of fighting has turned the former industrial and financial capital of Syria into a lot of wreckage and segmented districts.
But ISIS taking over yet another major city in Syria would be a big propaganda win for them, particularly at a time when Syrian morale is rising, and they are hoping for a turnaround from Russia’s involvement in the war. Aleppo would, if captured, pass Mosul as the city with the largest pre-war population under ISIS control.