There Is No Way There Are (or Have Ever Been) 250,000 Civilians in East Aleppo Pocket

Recent army advances are finding nowhere near enough civilians to justify the number -- casting further doubt on previous reports of numerous civilian deaths in airstrikes

In late July the Syrian army cut the last link between rebel-held eastern Aleppo and the main rebel-held territory in Idlib province to the west.

In late September it wrestled the control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp at the northern end of the Aleppo pocket thus beginning to shrink it.

Since then the rebel lines in Aleppo city have remained static in the south, but in the north the rebels have been forced to retreat time and time again so that the pocket is being slowly rolled up from the north.

In the past two months the loyalist side has been able to reduce the size of the rebel pocket by over 40%.

Yesterday and today have been the most successful days for the Syrian army yet. Led by the elite Tiger forces loyalists in one swift move wrestled control of entire built up districts.

aleppo-july-28

Pocket in late September

aleppo-nov-27

Pocket now

Neighborhoods taken yesterday and today (purple):

This has also meant that up to 4,000 civilians by early reports and up to 10,000 by later information have been ‘liberated’ — ie the neighboorhods they live in have switched control or else they took advantage of the rebel collapse to cross over.

This is a high number indeed, and one that comes from the anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And yet the number is also far lower than what one might expect. If one bought into the figure of 250,000-275,000 civilians in east Aleppo that has been promoted by the UN and the western media then such a substantial advance into built-up areas should have liberated many more residents.

Of course, as Moon of Alabama has pointed out particularly before the onset of the Russian intervention in Syria western reporters at times gave estimates that were far lower. Last year a reporter for The Guardian spoke of 40,000 civilians left which fits with the estimates of the Syrian government.

The present advance of the Syrian army into built up areas of eastern Aleppo is further evidence that the lower estimate of the Syrian government is closer to the truth — Syrian troops just aren’t finding enough civilians to justify the 250,000-275,000 estimate.

(Of course the people one should really ask is the smugglers who are selling foodstuffs to eastern Aleppo from the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maksood neighborhood. They could give the best estimate of them all based off the volume of calories they are transferring — alas smugglers or “war profiteers” don’t make for big talkers.)

This is consistent with other pockets where UN had also grossly overestimated the number of civilians present:

Daraya, near Damascus, originally had some 80,000 inhabitants. The numbers of besieged people in Daraya the UN had given were variously between several ten-thousands and down to 8,000. When the evacuation of Daraya started the Syrian army estimated that 800-1,200 fighters and 4,000 civilians would come out. In the end the numbers of leaving fighters was some 600-700 and less than 2,000 civilians turned up to leave. 

As the number of 250,000-275,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo falls apart the numbers given for civilian casualties of Syrian and Russian air strikes should also come into question. The year-long almost constant stream of reports of civilian deaths, sometimes several dozen per day is considerably less plausible if there were only 60,000 instead of 250,000 civilians living under the bombs to begin with — and the sources reporting these deaths are far less credible if they got the size of the overall remaining population this wrong.