Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was the subject of widespread ridicule today when he blanked and couldn’t tell an interviewer what “Aleppo” was. While he handled the fallout with surprising grace, he can be thanked for bringing the city – and the Syrian Civil War as a whole – back into public discourse, because the ongoing siege of Aleppo and the interminable larger multinational war is going to be our next President’s biggest challenge – and the city is the site of a humanitarian disaster of colossal proportions that the American people have a duty to be aware of.
The city of Aleppo was once the crown jewel of Syria; an ancient city that has been inhabited for eight thousand years. At the last known census, in 2005, it had 2.5 million residents. Nobody knows for sure how many remain today, but estimates put the population in rebel-held Aleppo at 300,000. The Assad regime offers only two options – kneel or die.
The air forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad and the Russian Federation have now killed more civilians that Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) have. The death toll of the conflict has reached almost half a million people. Russia alone has killed over 2,000 in just six months. From the skies, the dictators rain devastating barrel bombs, illegal cluster munitions, incendiary explosives like napalm, and now illegal chemical weapons on the trapped civilians. They’re known to specifically target hospitals, schools, marketplaces, mosques – anywhere where civilians gather.
Yesterday, over 120 people – including 37 – children fell sick after the Assad regime dropped bombs full of chlorine gas on civilian areas. Two kids have died.
Gassing children: Photos depict aftermath of Bashar regime chlorine bomb attack on besieged Syria city of Aleppo pic.twitter.com/4n887kQ8B3
— Borzou Daragahi (@borzou) September 7, 2016
— Mohamad Katoub (@aboali_majed) September 6, 2016
— Middle East Monitor (@MiddleEastMnt) September 8, 2016
The heroic men of the Syrian Civil Defense Force – known as the White Helmets for their impartiality and humanitarian mission – were on the scene to save survivors and record the atrocity, which is set to be investigated by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Once a city famed for its beauty, Aleppo lies now in ruins as the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies rain hellfire upon it every day. The city remains divided between regime forces (the Syrian Arab Army, or SAA) and the opposition coalition, which consists of what few secular Free Syrian Army units remain and Islamist rebels, who tend to be better equipped and funded because their Saudi and Qatari (and our so-called allies) backers favor the extremists – making them “wear the Wahhabi hat,” so to speak.
On top of that, the only supply route into the city for civilians has been periodically cut off by regime forces. In July, a massive 9,000 man FSA/Islamist offensive led by former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (now Jabhat al-Sham) and Islamist coalition Jaish al-Fatah was able to break through the siege lines and bring in desperately needed food and medical supplies, winning them great goodwill among the local population.
They were able to do so by burning tens of thousands of tires, creating a smokescreen that made it impossible for Assadi and Russian jets to launch their bombs, but as is every territorial gain in the Syrian Civil War, it was short-lived. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of starvation. It poses a very difficult situation for us that will only get worse if we continue to ignore it – and make no mistake: there is no more room for neutrality. We must take a side. Our procrastination and efforts to stay away has allowed the situation to deteriorate – genocidal dictators on one side; and jihadis on the other.
— Stork (@NorthernStork) September 6, 2016
As long as the United States continues to stand by and do nothing, more innocents will be butchered and any hope for a secular, democratic Syria fades further and further away as the desperate people of Syria will turn to jihadists to save them if that’s their only choice. Can you blame them?
Check out the trailer for the upcoming Netflix documentary on the White Helmets here:
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.