Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Accepting Reality?

Assad seems to finally realize what was apparent from the beginning--he can't hold Syria with what he has to fight for it with.

I'm not sure if Assad has the forces to hold terrain all the way down to Damascus, but this seems to be the strategy:

After watching much of Syria's territory slip into rebel hands, President Bashar Assad's regime is focusing on the basics: shoring up its hold on Damascus and the strip of land connecting the capital with the Mediterranean coast.

In the past week, government troops have overrun villages near the Lebanese border and suburbs of Damascus, including two districts west of the capital where activists say regime forces killed more than 100 people. The advances have improved the regime's footing in strategic areas that are seen as crucial to its survival.

In many ways, Assad's government has little choice at this point in the civil war, analysts say. Rebels have captured much of northern and eastern Syria, seizing control of military bases, hydroelectric dams, border crossings and even a provincial capital. Those areas are home to most of the country's oil fields, and the losses have deprived the regime of badly needed cash and fuel for its war machine.

If Assad had cut his losses back in January 2012 and abandoned northern and eastern Syria, I think Assad could have held an arc from the Turkish border along the coast, down through Damascus and then down to the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

But he's lost too many troops trying to hold more than that--especially the futile effort to secure Aleppo in the north. The replacement army that Assad is building out of loyal Alawites might be enough to hold this new smaller realm. But their inability to do more than conduct static defenses means that the rest of Syria will become bastions for rebels who can continue the war.

And Assad's loss of the provinces means that Assad will need outsight financial assistance to continue the fight. He's somebody's b*tch, now.

It is unclear if Assad has the manpower to fight for the shrunken Syria that he has apparently decided to hold. If even this smaller territory can't be held, will Assad transfer the capital from Damascus to the coast so Assad can claim to be the leader of formal Syria after abandoning Damascus?

We are certainly getting closer to facing a post-Syria Assad period rather than the long-anticipated post-Assad Syria phase. Do our objectives of keeping chemical weapons unused and secured, preventing blowback into Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, and keeping jihadis from gaining from the fall of Assad; and our desire to limit civilian casualties, mean we should be focused on the former problem rather than solving the latter problem?

UPDATE: The Syrian government had a success in their campaign to hold Damascus:

After five weeks of battle, Syrian government troops captured a strategic town near Damascus, cutting an arms route for rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad's regime, state media and activists said Thursday.

By taking the town of Otaybah, east of the capital, the army has dealt a major setback to opposition forces, who in the past months have made gains near the city they eventually hope to storm.

I don't think that the Assad forces can endure the strain of their burn rate on their ground forces, even though they are recruiting para-military light infantry forces to supplement their eroding army. But this isn't an argument for my assessment. Had Assad retreated to this boundary 16 months ago, I figured he could hold his ground. Now, I don't think so. Although abandoning large portions of Syria does free up military capabilities to put off the day of collapse or retreat to the Alawite core.

UPDATE: Rebels seek to distract the Assad forces from their recent gains around Damascus and near Aleppo by engaging Assad's troops in Hama:

Heavy clashes erupted for the first time in months in Syria's central city of Hama on Thursday as rebels tried to relieve pressure on comrades under attack from President Bashar al-Assad's forces elsewhere, activists said.

The body count continues to mount without us.