Battle of Azaz (2012)

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Battle of Azaz
Part of the Syrian civil war
Date 6 March – 23 July 2012
(4 months, 2 weeks and 3 days)
Location Azaz, Aleppo Governorate, Syria
Result Rebel victory
Belligerents
Flag of Syria (1932-1958; 1961-1963).svg Syrian opposition Syria Syrian government
Strength
2,000+ 5th Mechanized Division
  • 12th Armored Brigade (900 soldiers)
Unknow
Casualties and losses
125 killed 100+ soldiers killed
17 tanks destroyed

The Battle of Azaz was a battle between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army for control of the city of Azaz, north of Aleppo, during the Syrian civil war.

The first Azaz offensive

By 6 March, the rebel Free Syrian Army had taken control of towns north of Aleppo and were attacking Azaz.1 Subsequent, defections from the Syrian Army, following a crackdown in the wider Aleppo region against anti-government activists, led to the town becoming a battleground between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors and armed civilians in late March 2012.2 Three soldiers were killed by the FSA in fighting in March.3 On May 23, the government launched an assault on Azaz. As their armored columns approached the city from the west supported by helicopters and artillery, they encountered stiff rebel resistance from the combined forces of Ahrar alShamal Brigade and the Muthanna ibn Haritha Battalion. Over the next three days, regime forces attempted to take rebel-held neighborhoods. By the evening of May 26, rebels pushed the regime out of the city, destroying five armored vehicles in the process.4

The second Azaz offensive

At the beginning of July, the Assad regime began its second major offensive operation in northern Aleppo. Once again, the focus of this offensive was Azaz, which the regime began to shell on July 2. A week later, the Syrian observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes in several of the city's neighborhoods. The struggle for Azaz continued until July 19, when rebel groups finally re-established control of the city. The regime retreated to Minnakh Air Base, which remained operational.4 On 23 July, it was confirmed that the FSA had finally taken control of Azaz.5 They said that 17 government tanks had been destroyed and one captured, although a journalist in the area counted 7 destroyed tanks.6

There is no video evidence of the battle itself to explain the mechanism of the rebels' success against regime armor in this battle. However, a number of factors may have contributed to their success. One account of the clashes indicated that rebels used rocket propelled grenades against the tanks. If this is the case, then rebels in Azaz have cultivated substantial antiarmor tactical proficiency. RPGs are not typically capable of penetrating the thick armor of main battle tanks. As would have had to utilize complex tactics, carefully employing their anti-armor assets to achieve mobility kills before striking against weak points in the tanks' armor. The same account also points to the regime blunders in the employment of its tanks, explaining that the regime positioned its armored elements in a courtyard surrounding the mosque, pointing their guns outward towards the city in a defensive stance without infantry support aside from sniper over-watch from inside the mosque.4

Also critical to the rebels success was the quantity of ammunition they possessed. Thanks to Azaz's proximity to the Turkish border, rebels there could easily access weapons, ammunition, and reinforcements via the Kilis Border Crossing. The Tawhid Brigade claims to receive support from foreign states. A Tawhid Brigade spokesman in Azaz by the name of Abdulaziz Salama recently reported that the brigade received some 700 RPG rounds, 300 rifles, and 3,000 grenades in two shipments coordinated by the US and Turkey.4

Further developments

On December 16 Syrian government warplanes bombed the town. Most of the bombs hit the centre of Azaz, around three kilometres (two miles) from the Turkish border in an area dominated by Syrian rebels, but at least one landed 500 metres from Turkish soil, one official said. It also stirred panic at a Syrian refugee camp just inside Turkey. Hundreds of residents from Azaz were trying to cross the border. Azaz was again hit from the air on January 26 2013.7

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