March 6, 2013: The Assad government is offering to negotiate, if the rebels will disarm first. The rebels refused these terms. The Assads say they will eventually win but the Assad followers are scrambling to save what they can. Increasingly, the wealthy families are sending women, children, and financial assets out of the country. The less affluent supporters are trying to get to the western coastal part of Syria, which is largely Alawite (Shia) and Christian, two groups that have always supported the Assads and benefitted economically because of it. The Assad supporters believe that, worst case, once Aleppo, Damascus, and central Syria fall to the rebels, there will be enough Alawites and Christians in the coastal area to keep the rebels out. Or just keep them out until everyone who wants to flee by air or ship can do so. While president Basher Assad and some of his key aides are willing to fight to the death, most of his supporters are not. They are willing to fight until they can get away. The hope is that the UN and the neighbors would step in to prevent a massacre of the hated Alawites and the other minorities that supported the Assads. Those supporters amount to several million people and despite more frequent departures, many will be around for the end, armed and anxious.
The rebels are making a convincing case that NATO (especially the U.S. and Turkey) should allow weapons and ammo to reach rebels via Turkey. Some of this stuff is being smuggled in via Turkey, but the Turks patrol the border aggressively and seize shipments they detect. The rebels make the case that their forces are not able to share captured government ammo and weapons because both sides make the roads dangerous for everyone. Moreover, the rebels tend to operate in this isolation and without more ammo it is common for rebel groups to shut down (switch back to being unarmed civilians) until they can resupply. As for the Islamic radicals in their ranks (about ten percent of the rebels can be described as Islamic terrorists) the rebel leadership admits that they will have to deal with these guys (who want a religious dictatorship running Syria) when the fighting stops and all other nations opposed to Islamic terrorism will have to help. So you may as well help now because there’s no way the rebels can shut down the Islamic radical groups while the rebellion is still underway. The Islamic radicals are the most fearless fighters. They will, literally, take on suicide missions.
Enough of Aleppo has been taken by rebels that rebel leaders are moving in, establishing a government and sending out videos showing this happening. While the government still has aircraft and ballistic missiles to attack areas deep in rebel held territory, there are not enough operational aircraft (because of fuel shortages and maintenance problems) or missiles (many of these elderly weapons are in no condition to launch) to threaten all the rebel held areas. The rebels are distributing more portable anti-aircraft missiles and making it riskier for the air force to come in low to more accurately bomb targets. No such advantage for helicopters, and at least two have been shot down around Aleppo recently.
March 4, 2013: In the north rebels have captured a ballistic missile launch site, near the area (al Kibar) that Israel bombed in 2007, to destroy a nuclear weapons research facility. The rebels released cell phone video of the captured base, showing equipment used to assemble and launch SCUD type missiles.
Rebels captured the northern city of Raqqa, 200 kilometers east of Aleppo. The siege tactics are paying off as troops and police are abandoning cities and towns in the eastern (largely Sunni) Syria where the rebels control most of the countryside and threaten road traffic at will. There are always diehard Assad supporters who will not desert and in places like Raqqa the rebels surround these guys and keep shooting until the holdouts are dead.
In Iraq an al Qaeda ambush near the Syrian border killed 48 Syrian soldiers and government employees, along with seven of the Iraqi soldiers escorting them to another border crossing so the Syrians could return to Syria. The Syrians had entered Iraq at a border crossing in the north as they fled Syrian rebels. Iraq arranged for the 48 Syrians to be driven further south, to a border crossing where the rebels were not as numerous so that the Syrians could be escorted back into Syria by Syrian troops. Iraqi Sunni Arab sympathizers of the Syrian rebels found out about this and an armed group allied with al Qaeda ambushed the convoy. Syrian soldiers, police, and government officials in eastern Syria are fighting for their lives because the Sunni Arab rebels are from local tribes who really, really hate the Shia led dictatorship that has ruled the country for decades. The rebels want revenge and now they are getting it, on both sides of the border.
Iraqi troops on the Syrian border are increasingly closing the official crossings because of rebel activity on the Syrian side. There are still Syrian soldiers and police in largely Sunni eastern Syria, but that is slowly changing. The rebels are cutting the supply routes for the Syrian government forces and taking control of the larger towns and cities.
March 1, 2013: There are now over a million Syrian refugees outside Syria. About 40 percent of these refugees fled in the last three months. More are coming as rebels and government troops make it more difficult to move supplies around by truck. For an increasing number of civilians this means you must either flee the country or risk starvation. The UN is seeking $10 billion from members to take care of this growing flood of refugees, mainly in Syria but in other countries as well. Raising this money is increasingly difficult because of the growing reports of corruption in the refugee aid operations.
A Syrian SCUD ballistic missile landed in northern Iraq, causing no injuries or damage. Many Syrian SCUDs have older, less accurate and reliable guidance systems. That will cause a SCUD to land far from its target, as will poor maintenance on these complex, liquid fueled rockets (based on the German V-2 that was last used 68 years ago).
February 28, 2013: The U.S. has agreed to supply the rebels with $60 million in non-lethal (no weapons or ammo) aid. The rebels appreciate the gesture but keep insisting that only Western weapons and ammo supplies will end the fighting quickly.