‘What Is Aleppo?’ Gary Johnson Asked. Let Us Explain.


Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, was criticized on his foreign policy knowledge on Thursday after being questioned about the embattled Syrian city.

Aleppo was once Syria’s most populous city, famed for its citadel and old city. Now it’s a byword for destruction, recently labeled “the apex of horror”by the top aid official at the United Nations.

On Thursday, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, Gary Johnson,was widely mocked when he asked “What is Aleppo?” during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. A short while later, the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was asked about the flub and laughed, saying only, “You can look on the map and find Aleppo.”

Some of the basics about what’s going on there, with links to some of The Times’s best recent coverage.

A Divided City

Aleppo was Syria’s largest city and commercial capital before the war. Since 2012, it has been divided between the government, which controls the western part of the city, and rebel forces who control the east. Anne Barnard, our Beirut bureau chief who covers the Syrian war, has chronicled the suffering of civilians there — including Omran Daqneesh, the 5-year-old boy whose photo made headlines around the world last month.


Omran Daqneesh, 5, was rescued after an airstrike in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Within hours, a photo of his dust- and blood-covered face captured the world’s attention. This is the story behind the image.

A Bloody Summer

Fighting intensified over the summer, as government forces backed by Russia battled an array of rebel groups. Only the government side has air power, and intense bombardment, including regular airstrikes, barrel bombs dropped from helicopters and suspected chlorine attacks, have left much of the eastern part of the city in ruins.

The western, government-held side has also sustained indiscriminate attacks, with rebel mortar barrages on crowded neighborhoods.

Some of the most harrowing tales have come from doctors working to save the wounded. A moving essay was written by Samer Attar, an American doctor who volunteers in the field hospitals of Aleppo.


Civilians were trapped in Aleppo, Syria’s most populated city, as fighting escalated. Samer Attar, a Chicago doctor who recently volunteered in a hospital there, says conditions are deteriorating.

Under Siege

Control of supply routes in and out of the eastern part have been a focal point of the conflict, as the government sought to cut off the rebel-held parts of the city. Aid officials say about 275,000 people remain there, cut off from reliable supplies of food, water and medicine. Fighting also limited aid deliveries to 1.5 million people in the west, where water shortages are just as frequent.

In July, the government, backed by Russia, encircled the eastern half of the city, succeeding in cutting off supply routes and putting it under siege. A week later, rebel fighters managed to break the siege and open the routes leading north to the border with Turkey — only to have the government reverse their gains within weeks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursdaythat nearly 700 people had been killed in fighting in Aleppo since July 31, including 160 children.

But Nearby, Daily Life Goes On

Our correspondent Declan Walsh visited the government-held areas in the spring and said that one of the most striking things was much of the city appears to be functioning relatively normally. “The strange part is that the backdrop to the daily bustle is a cacophony of booms,” he wrote afterward.

There’s Aleppo City, and Aleppo Province

Aleppo is also the name of the larger province that includes territory controlled by the Syrian government, Kurdish forces, United States-backed rebels, Qaeda-affiliated ones and ISIS. There has been intense and complicated fighting there as Turkey has moved in to clear the area of ISIS— and stop the advancement of Syrian Kurdish groups, who Washington sees as the best bet against ISIS.


Turkey launched its largest military push into the Syrian conflict and against the Islamic State on Wednesday, sending tanks, warplanes and special operations ground forces over the border.

No End to the Fighting in Sight

President Obama and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia talked about brokering a cease-fire in Syria for 90 minutes on Monday at the Group of 20 meeting in China. Suffice to say, they didn’t reach an agreement.


A look inside a fight for power behind the battlefield scene in Syria. Who is winning the proxy war between Moscow and Washington? By NATALIA V. OSIPOVA and MARK MAZZETTI on Publish Date August 6, 2016. Photo by George Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. 

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