On Friday, photos emerged of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, in conquered eastern Aleppo, Syria (photos 1, 2). Another photo showed him by the Citadel of Aleppo (photo 3). It was not immediately clear when the photos were taken.
Following rapid advances this month, pro-Syrian government forces entered the Old City on Dec. 6, and ousted insurgents by the following day, as reported by major media outlets. After pro-regime forces squeezed rebels into a small pocket, both sides reached an agreement for civilians and fighters to leave eastern Aleppo in exchange for the territory. Negotiations are underway to evacuate tens of thousands, according to The Guardian.
Backed by Russian air power, the IRGC and foreign Shiite militias under Soleimani’s command have been instrumental in imposing siege on Aleppo in a 15-month long operation, and deflecting two major offensives spearheaded by Islamist-led coalitions. Pro-regime Syrian militias, such as the Desert Hawks and Tiger Forces, alongside the Syrian Arab Army led the breakthrough from Aleppo’s northern sector this past month. Russian special forces also played a pivotal role in the ground offensive to retake Aleppo, as covered in The Wall Street Journal.
Reporting directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Soleimani has executed Iranian strategy in Syria since the popular uprisings in 2011. He was the point man who personally negotiated with President Vladimir Putin Russia’s military intervention in September 2015, according to unnamed security officials who spoke with Reuters.
After more than five years, Soleimani has succeeded in preventing the fall of Bashar al Assad, protecting Iran’s supply route to Lebanese Hezbollah, and laying siege to Aleppo, Syria’s largest urban area prior to the war. He has mobilized thousands of Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis to fight in Syria, forming an international Shiite expeditionary force.
[Update: the earlier version of this report said that the photos surfaced yesterday, while it was Friday.]