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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Payback Time?


With global diplomacy playing its part and an army showing signs of resilience, the Assad regime in Syria seems to be regaining its composure once again, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: June 2, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Bashar al-Assad | Damascus | Lebanon | Syrian Arab Army. US | Russia | SNC |

While the world was focussing on the goings on in the Middle East, the Syrian Arab Army under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad, achieved a major tactical victory this week in its fight against a mishmash of home grown rebels and foreign mercenaries. The Syrian army successfully captured the tactically important town of Qusayr. And by doing so, it has reopened the transport route between Damascus and Lebanon, something which was closed for more than six months now, while denying it as a resupply line for the insurgents in Homs Governate. There are several versions of how the rebels lost the battle and the town and none of them give a definitive story of what actually happened in northSyria this week. However, there appears to be a growing consensus on why they lost it and are poised to lose further.

The single biggest reason that appears to have started turning the tide is that even after months of fighting, the morale of Syrian Arab Army remains very strong and there is no visible cracks in the military itself. This is an extremely important sign. The army has been stretched thin in the initial 14 to 15 months of unrest. It was also stretched because it had failed to concentrate on key areas.

Also, in the initial days the opposition opened several fronts, especially those where training was being provided by Jordan and Turkey. And that is why deployment was stretched to its optimum to stop these leaks. However, this was less affective as the opposition resorted to hit and run tactics that bled the army quite profusely. This strategy has been changed at several fronts. Broadly the new strategy appears to be on these lines.

First, the Syrian Arab Army decided to withdraw from those areas that were not tactically important or are at least less important than others. This was followed by the consolidation of important areas, which gave the army a chance to mount coordinated attack on the opposition strongholds. It has also helped them withdraw and consolidate arms and weapons in their strongholds and stopping them from falling into opposition’ hands, as was the case in the past. This three-pronged strategy has helped the Syrian Arab Army in not only retaining their strongholds from falling into the hands of highly motived and armed rebels but also recapturing some of those territories it has lost in the last few months.

Apart from this there are other aspects that are very visible. The biggest of them is the army's ability to strongly withstand pressure from the opposition. After months of small and big scale defections and desertions, the Syrian Arab Army has now stabalised and have dropped to a trickle. Sources close to TSI say that during the second half of 2012, an average of 400 to 700 soldiers from the army were defecting every month. That figure has now dropped down to 10 to 12 defections every month, which the sources added, are `very manageable.'

Also, unlike 2012, there is little discontent amongst the officers corps - evident in decreasing number of defections while all such occurences are now limited to the level of soldiers and that too in the logistics department.

It is also very interesting to note here that the core of the conscription of the Syrian Arab Army that is still very Sunni in its formation, has remained consolidated to this day and there has been no apparent crack in that support base although the rebels have tried to project the unrest as a Sunni versus Alawite conflict.

Similarly, the minority conscripts as well as the officers, drawn from Christians, Druze and Kurds, have stuck it together displaying solidarity and camraderie.  

While the insurgency continues to retreat slowly but steadily, Russia's maneuvering has been successful in deterring any chance of an outright western intervention which was rated high on the cards at one point of time not too long in the past.

“According to the Geneva plan the United States and Russia will convene a conference with the aim to finding some consensual new Syrian government with each side promising to bring its supported party to the table. For Russia that will be easy to do. The Syrian government has always agreed to such talks and is willing to send a delegation that will discuss the various issues and compromises, where required.

But the United States itself has a huge problem on hand. It has little leverage over a large disjointed Syrian opposition. How can it then deliver on the promises it made? There are two identified groups the US is interacting with: the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army through General Idriss. To these groups the US can give or withhold money, equally it can give or withhold arms. But what is the SNC's leverage on ground and who, except the Muslim Brotherhood, does it really represent? And if the U.S. withholds money from them, will Qatar and other sources do the same,” questions noted Middle East expert Bernhard, who has kept a close eye on the Syrian crisis.

On the other hand, it is increasingly becoming clear that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has overplayed his hands in Syria and the dividends are not to his liking. The protests by opposition, who are against the war, has only intensified. And with blasts now rocking some of the border towns of Turkey, it is only the matter of months that its resolve to see Assad go, will start falling apart. With diplomacy playing its part now, it is expected that the scenario will only improve for Assad. It seems almost incredible  with the way things have changed for him .

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017