How foreign militias played a key role in victory for Assad
When rebel fighters launched a last desperate attempt to break the siege of Aleppo in October, they were beaten back - not by the Syrian army but by the Lebanese group Hezbollah fighting on its behalf, a senior official in the pro-government alliance said.
In the build-up to the final battle for Syria's second city, scores of fighters from a single Iraqi Shi'ite militia were killed in just two days of combat this summer, said a commander of another group fighting for President Bashar al-Assad.
Even in the last hours of fighting in Aleppo, allied Iraqi militia were at the vanguard. The UN human rights office said it had reports that the Syrian army and an allied Iraqi militia had killed at least 82 civilians in captured city districts - allegations denied by the army and militia.
These episodes show how in the decisive battle of Syria's nearly six-year-old civil war, Assad drew heavily on foreign Shi'ite militias sponsored by Iran for his most important victory to date. Rebel sources say that among fighters taken prisoner by insurgents in the last months of Assad's campaign to retake Aleppo, there was not a single Syrian soldier.
To be sure, Russian air strikes were the most important factor in Assad's triumph. They enabled his forces to press the siege of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to devastating effect and regain full control of what was Syria's biggest city and economic hub before the war. But on the ground, Shi'ite militias from as far afield as Afghanistan played an important role for Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Hezbollah, battle-hardened by years of conflict with Israel, ensured the siege was not broken by helping thwart a series of suicide attacks, according to the official in the pro-Assad military alliance.