Monday, January 16, 2012

Death Spiral

Assad is losing ground.

Early in the Syrian uprising, loyalist forces were limited in number and so forced to move around the country putting down protests with force and then moving on elsewhere to repeat the mission. Assad had too few loyal troops, security forces, and irregulars to actually "clear and hold" everything. "Clear and move on" is no longer possible, it seems:

The opposition speaks less of prospects for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad and more about a civil war that some argue has already begun, with the government losing control over some regions and its authority ebbing in the suburbs of the capital and parts of major cities like Homs and Hama. Even the capital, Damascus, which had remained calm for months, has been carved up with checkpoints and its residents have been frightened by the sounds of gunfire.

Assad has reached the point where he can't move on all the areas that need to be cleared, if some areas are effectively opposition controlled now. If the armed opposition can organize and send forces out of those areas, they will make it harder for the Assad loyalists to clear even more areas.

So what will Assad do? What arms did Russia just ship in? Will more arms allow Assad to clear more areas and resume the whack-a-mole strategy? Or is it a lack of manpower and not weapons? If more weapons don't allow Assad to put more men in the field, does Assad do something desperate to change the rules of a game he is losing?

I hope this turns out well. I'll settle for it turning out Assad and his pro-Iranian into the streets for some revolutionary justice. I admit I am somewhat satisfied to see that the Assad regime is in more danger from its own people than Assad ever placed our Iraqi allies in through Assad's support of terrorism in Iraq.

UPDATE: Strategypage has more:

The UN has warned the Syrian government to halt the violence or risk civil war. Actually, there already is a civil war, with thousands of army deserters organized into small guerilla groups all over the country. The desertions continue and it's only a matter of time before rebel and government forces are fighting it out on an equal basis. Already, rebel troops are holding towns and villages against repeated army assaults. Most of these are near the Lebanese or Turkish border.

Desertions are increasing, they say. At some point, Assad will need to focus his limited troops on holding the key areas of Syria and letting the other areas go. He needs the capital region, ports, oil export infrastructure, and areas linking them. We had to do much the same in Iraq.

The difference is that we backed the majority in Iraq and could look forward to the day when we'd have enough Iraqi security forces to expand the areas of control. Assad can't grow his forces unless Iran sends significant forces. So retreating to the core area buys time for the center to hold and not much else.

UPDATE: Here's a liberated zone:

The besieged town of Zabadani has witnessed heavy exchanges of fire between army troops and anti-government military defectors over the past six days.

Activist Fares Mohammad said Syrian forces surrounding Zabadani withdrew Wednesday night to two military barracks some miles (kilometers) outside.

Enough of Assad's army is loyal to avoid imminent defeat, but enough is defecting or deserting to avoid imminent victory. The question of whether Assad's military tires of killing before Syria's people tire of being killed is still unanswered.