Monday, February 25, 2013

Arming Assad's Enemies

After watching the death in Syria toll race beyond 70,000 in the last two years and see jihadis gain influence in the Syrian rebellion, somebody in the West finally rubbed a couple brain cells together and decided to arm the non-jihadi rebels.

Well what do you know?

In a series of blogs, [the British blogger Eliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses] noted the appearance in rebel hands of new weapons that almost certainly could not have been captured from government arsenals. They include M-79 anti-tank weapons and M-60 recoilless rifles dating back to the existence of Yugoslavia in the 1980s that the Syrian government does not possess.

He also noted that most of the recipients of the arms appear to be secular or moderate Islamist units of the Free Syrian Army. In a sign of how organized the effort is, he said, one of the recent videos shows members of the local Fajr al-Islam brigade teaching other rebels how to use some of the new weapons.

The items appear to have already begun influencing the course of the war, he said. They have contributed to a sharp escalation of fighting in the Daraa area this year in which opposition fighters have overrun government bases, including several checkpoints along the Jordanian border, a key but long-neglected front.

Croatia appears to be the source of the weapons. And Jordan must be cooperating in this effort, despite denials, given their interest in keeping jihadis from controlling territory bordering Jordan. The weapons are allowing the rebels in the south to capture government arsenals, increasing the effect.

Apparently, the special forces convention we held in Jordan wasn't just about WMD proliferation threats.

I would like to take exception to this part of the story:

The shift was prompted by the realization that rebel gains across the north of the country over the past year were posing no major threat to the regime in Damascus, said Saleh al-Hamwi, who coordinates the activities of rebel units in the province of Hama with others around the country.

Gains in the north threaten to create a free zone close to Assad's Alawite base in the west. That will draw off already shrinking forces away from Damascus and the lines of communication that keep Damascus linked to Assad's core area.

Further, Assad's decision to fight for Aleppo has surely crippled his army as it futilely tried to capture and secure the major city. It was obviously a bridge too far for his too-small ground forces. It could be Assad's Verdun, breaking his army even as he has retained a presence in the city.

But whatever Assad has left in the city is no longer trying to win and won't be able to hold out as outposts in and around Aleppo continue to be under assault:

Syrian activists say rebel fighters have launched a fresh offensive on a government complex near the embattled northern city of Aleppo.

Assad's stretched forces are getting no rest and the scale of the fight is escalating. I may not know how long the Syrian army can endure this war of attrition, but they sure aren't going to win the war they are fighting.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. Assad is sending reinforcements to Aleppo:

The fighting in Aleppo keeps going against the government. Being forced out of the city would be a major defeat and would give the rebels a place to establish a new Syrian government. To avoid this catastrophe the government has been sending reinforcements north. But it isn’t enough, because the government has fewer and fewer troops available. Forming civilian militias is of only limited help because these guys are OK at defending their neighborhoods, but much less capable, or willing to move elsewhere and go on the offensive. Most of Aleppo is now controlled by the rebels and the Assad forces may be gone in weeks, or months depending on how desperate they are to hang on.

But they are being sent not to win--just to delay defeat. Once the troops sent figure that out, I imagine morale there will take a hit. Or will the threat of being sent to the Aleppo front be used to scare young soldiers into behaving>

The Strategypage post also says that Saudi Arabia is behind the Croatian arms, and yes they want them to go to non-jihadis. Silly me thinking some Western nations decided that arming non-jihadis to fight our enemy Assad was a good idea. Sometimes I'm too naive for my own good.