Aleppo City has endured some of the most intense violence in Syria. As of early 2014, the Syrian government owned the balance of power with the strongest weapons and the most well-fortified checkpoints, despite only controlling one-third of Aleppo’s neighborhoods. Between September 2013 to January 2014, opposition groups began to fight not only the regime’s forces but also the more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which transformed from near-obscurity to the most powerful armed group in the city. Caerus leveraged First Mile Geo to monitor the growth of these forces and the shifting balance of power between them. These are the top line findings.
There is only a single location where residents can formally cross between regime and opposition controlled areas, known as the checkpoint of death. Not only is there is a significant military buildup at the location, but crime is increasing in nearby neighborhoods.
The total number of different armed opposition groups in Aleppo has declined each period, but this is mostly due to the disappearance of local battalions that operate in only one neighborhoods. This means armed opposition groups are getting bigger at the expense of smaller, more local battalions. This “franchising” of opposition groups means larger groups like Liwa al-Tawhid become more powerful by adding or eliminating smaller, local groups.
The Air Force Intelligence is regarded as the Syrian Government’s most loyal intelligence service and is widely feared by opposition forces as its most brutal. Its influence grew from controlling seven neighborhoods in September 2013 to ten in January 2014, nearly half of the twenty-two neighborhoods in regime-held Aleppo.
In opposition areas, resident perceptions of safety are more closely correlated with how frequently they witness crimes. While in regime-held areas, residents report their neighborhood as “dangerous” while hardly witnessing any crime at all. This may mean that residents in opposition-held Aleppo are more concerned with local lawlessness than they are with the front lines of the conflict.
ISIS is taking over in Aleppo, focusing on seizing neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo. They have transformed from controlling one neighborhood in September to twelve by December. Though ISIS lost two neighborhoods fighting off new rebel coalitions, they still control more neighborhoods (10) than any other opposition armed group.
Relations with citizens are not a strong point for ISIS. One major touch point is where checkpoints impede economic and humanitarian activities among citizens. ISIS checkpoints are statistically the most restrictive and most frequently avoided among opposition held Aleppo.
Citizen mobility is significantly impeded, with the most restrictive checkpoints along the busiest roads. Nearly 75% of checkpoints regarded as “most restrictive” in Aleppo are stationed along the highways entering the city, and the two ring roads surrounding it. This likely has a dramatic economic impact.