Syria: Fortune Favors The Bold


February 12, 2013: The rebellion is now largely a war of raids, roadblocks, and sieges. The government still has a combat edge with its artillery, armor, and warplanes. But the rebels are more numerous and bolder. Recently the rebels have been more active attacking government roadblocks. Eliminating these makes it easier for the rebels to get around and closes roads to government forces and supplies. This war of roads and sieges of army bases has forced the government to move its most dependable units back to defend Damascus. Aleppo is almost lost with only a few army units holding out in besieged bases. But Damascus is under growing attack by rebels that attack road checkpoints around and inside the city. Islamic radical groups continue to carry out suicide bombings in government held neighborhoods.

Most of the original security forces have been killed, captured, switched sides, or deserted. Two years ago the Syrian security forces had 450,000 personnel (50,000 secret police, 300,000 troops, and 100,000 police). But most of these, especially the lower ranking personnel, were not Alawite. Those non-Alawites have largely deserted or been confined to their bases because of questionable loyalty. Even some of the non-Sunni units have such fragile morale that the best they can be expected to do is defend their bases. That will only last as long as supplies last. As the early fighting non-Alawite troops cannot be trusted and will desert, refuse to fight, or even turn on their Alawite officers and NCOs. For this reason the government is depending more on hastily organized (with the help of Iranian and Hezbollah trainers and organizers) Alawite militias. The problem with militias is that they are poorly disciplined and tend to commit atrocities, especially when responding to attacks on their own families. These militias also tend to disintegrate if pressed too hard. Many of the militias were created to simply provide security from the growing number of bandits as well as small groups of rebels or soldiers seeking some looting opportunities. Throughout the country there are now over a million armed men organized for fighting. Less than a third of those are loyal to the government and there only about 100,000 troops and secret police that the Assads can really depend on. The rebels are lightly armed and lack training and discipline. But the rebel combat leaders are imaginative and energetic. Fortune favors the bold and the government has less and less opportunity to be bold.

So far, the fighting has left over 62,000 dead and there are currently several thousand casualties a week. Most of those hurt are civilians, victims of government artillery, aerial bombardment, and random shootings by ground troops. The number of refugees fleeing the country is increasing, with over 100,000 leaving each month. There are now nearly 800,000 in neighboring countries like Lebanon (280,000), Jordan (260,000), Turkey (190,000), and Iraq (90,000).

More of the country is losing its water and electricity supplies. The distribution network for both is being disrupted by rebels and government forces alike. This is driving more people to flee the country, at least temporarily (until the fighting ends).

As rebels increasingly capture tanks and artillery they turn these weapons on government held areas, usually military bases. Ambushes are more frequent on roads used to move supplies for government troops and civilians. There has been a noticeable drop in the use of government air power, meaning convoys of rebel gunmen can more freely move during daylight. The rebels not only have to avoid government troops and aircraft but also the growing number of pro-government militias. This is especially the case in rural areas where some villages with non-Sunni majorities have gone from neutral to armed, organized, and hostile to any rebels. Sometimes Sunni families have been driven out to avoid the possibility of internal dissent. All this is creating the potential for large-scale expulsions of the losing side’s civilians. This means the minorities and the most likely place for them to go is Lebanon (full of similar groups) or Turkey (not so much). Israel is not accepting refugees and Jordan is largely Sunni and hostile to any permanent refugees. Iraq is hard to reach because the border areas on the Syrian side are largely Sunni. The exception is northeastern Syria, which is largely Kurd. The Kurds are trying to remain neutral and try to keep all non-Kurds out.

Tensions between Islamic radical militias and other rebel units continue, with a growing number of confrontations between the two. The usual cause is Islamic radicals trying to impose their lifestyle rules (no alcohol, swearing, videos or music, and so on) on civilians and other rebel groups. Sometimes a brawl or kidnapping will settle the matter for the moment. Eventually, the tensions will lead to gunfire, but for now the priority is the government forces.

The recent rebel offer to negotiate, by Western-backed SNC (Syrian National Coalition) leader Mouaz al Khatib, has been modified by demands that the government only use negotiators who do not “have blood on their hands.” This is another effort to split the government coalition and persuade the Assad clan to get out (and end the rebellion with a government defeat) while they still can. The Assads refuse to leave.

February 11, 2013: A Syrian car bomb exploded in Turkey, just after it had crossed from Syria, killing three Turks and nine Syrians. It’s unclear who was responsible or what the objective was.

An Islamic radical rebel group seized control of the al Furat dam on the Euphrates River (which flows from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq). The dam created Lake Assad, a 640 square kilometers (247 square miles) reservoir that is the largest in the country and supplies water to most of northern and eastern Syria. The dam contains electricity generating gear to produce 888 megawatts. Most electricity in the country comes from oil or gas fueled plants but the al Furat dam supplies a large rural area in the north and east. The rebels have persuaded the dam employees to remain and continue working as usual.

February 8, 2013: The U.S. said it did not provide weapons to the rebels because Israel believed those weapons would eventually be turned against them. Israel apparently convinced the U.S. that the rebels had sufficient weapons (captured from the security forces and supplied by Arab Gulf oil states).

February 7, 2013: The government has allowed foreign aid to some internal refugees in the north. This was done to win some good will from the UN and Turkey (which would eventually get most of these refugees if aid did not arrive). About 20 percent of the Syrian population is suffering from privation (shortages of food, clean water, and medical care). The number is growing each week.


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